Rethinking the Legacy of Anarcho-Punk Zines: An Interview with Chris Low

A conversation with punk lifer Chris Low on the emergence of anarcho-punk and the lasting legacy of zines on the punk culture.

Born in the Scottish town of Stirling, Chris Low is a DIY punk drummer, photographer and a graphic designer who witnessed and participated in the emergence of the anarchist punk scene in the UK that took off in the early 1980s. Chris was an early anarcho-punk zinester and a drummer for various bands along the years, most notably Political Asylum, The Apostles, Oi Polloi, and Part 1. He has written for Vice magazine amongst other publications and has contributed to a number of books on punk, zines and subcultures.

In this interview we talk about growing up as a punk kid in the late ’70s, playing in a controversial band like The Apostles and the importance of zines for developing class struggle anarchist politics within the DIY punk scene.

Chris Low drumming for Part 1 (2014)

Hello Chris, it’s an absolute honour speaking to you! Do you mind sharing some background about how and when you first got involved with DIY subculture and punk music? What was it to be involved in punk from a really young age?

Likewise, Sir! It’s a fantastic site you run and an honour to be asked for an interview.

I grew up in Stirling, in Central Scotland and got into punk in 1978. I was nine years old. I always used to hang around with people older than me and back then pretty much everyone I knew got into punk. The house I grew up in overlooked the car park of the local disco/club and there were local punk bands who would rehearse there me and my friends used to go and watch them practice. One of our next-door neighbours was Jamzy, the bassist in Stirling’s premier punk band, The Fakes—who released one amazing EP called Production, which you can find on YouTube. They were the first band I ever saw live and also in early 1979 I attended the Stirling Punk Festival which The Fakes also played alongside several other Central Scotland and Glasgow bands. I started listening to John Peel around then too and he would always play the latest punk records on his show. The first “big” gig I ever went to was Sham 69 at Glasgow Apollo just when the Sex Pistols had split up and Steve Jones and Paul Cook joined them on stage for the encore, which as you can imagine was a monumental moment for a young kid.

Chris Low in 1978

I think, at that age, punk just felt like having some sort of identity or being in a gang. All the Stirling punks would hang about outside the local shopping centre on Saturdays and being part of that alone seemed incredibly exciting and grown up. One episode I also remember very distinctly was spying a cassette of the first Clash album in the local Woolworths and skiving off school on a mission to nick it, prizing it out of the plastic display case with a screwdriver but being somewhat disappointed when I heard how melodious it all was as this wasn’t really what I had expected they would sound like by their appearance. Soon after I managed to acquire a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks by the same nefarious means and that was a lot more like it: especially “Bodies” which sounded angry and nasty. But I think the first time I ever heard anything I would regard as ‘defining’ was hearing Crass’s Feeding of the 5,000, which, at long last, was a record that sounded 100% like I had always imagined punk WOULD and SHOULD sound—no cheesy Transatlantic vocal affectations, rock & roll riffs or wanky guitar solos like many of the ’77 acts. It was discordant and relentless all the way through, an absolute sonic and sensory assault leaving barely a moment to breathe from start to finish. I’ll never forget the power and impact the Feeding had. Getting it home, putting it on our old record player with the speaker in the lid, folding out the lyric booklet that came inside; sitting down listening to it and following the lyrics. I would have been nine or ten years old then. After getting to the end of side two, it was like a bomb had gone off in my head. A year later, in 1980, I saw Crass live for the first time when they played a local venue, The Albert Hall in Stirling. The fact they came across so intensely on stage just compounded what was already an unbelievably strong and powerful image. I’m happy to admit that If it wasn’t for Crass punk wouldn’t have meant much more than a type of music or way of dressing. And I probably wouldn’t be answering your questions today.

chris centro iberico 1982. fr sam knee 001
Chris Low at Centro Ibérico  in 1982. 📸 Sam Knee

How did anarcho-punk come to life in the UK? Was it just a name that was given to the bands of the early 1980s who advocated viewpoints similar to Crass?

Funnily enough, I only discovered recently that one of the very first ever uses of the term Anarcho Punk in print was a review of issue three of the fanzine I produced, Guilty of What?, though I believe the first use of it as a genre term was in a letter by Class War founder Ian Bone, at the time singer with The Living Legends, to the music paper Sounds. I’d say the term has its origins in the bands who rehearsed and played at Wapping Autonomy Centre—the original Anarchy Centre—which was set up with the proceeds from Crass’ Bloody Revolutions single.

Originally described as the Anarchy Centre bands, these punk acts with an anarchist message—The Apostles, Assassins of Hope, The Sinyx, Flack, Primal Chaos, Black Flag, The Witches, Faction etc.—though largely written out of the posthumous histories of the movement in favour of the better known bands who they inspired—were its founders. Plus another two-man act called A.P.F. Brigade (A.P.F. stood for Anarchy Peace Freedom) who were hugely influential within the nascent anarcho scene but, other than having a track included on the first Bullshit Detector compilation, are criminally ignored.

Later, as more bands were released on Crass Records and those other labels such as Spiderleg and Mortarhate that it inspired, Anarcho Punk came to be a simple way to define bands who had a similar musical approach, visual aesthetic and ideology. Before then the terms used to demarcate Crass type acts from the Apocalypse Now sort of bands, now called UK82 bands, were Peace Punk or even Crass Clone. Contrary to what many seem to think, Crust didn’t exist during the years Crass were active so you never heard of anarcho bands described as crusties until the late eighties.

Murph of A.O.A. in 1984. Chris Low’s archive.

What was the importance of zines in the development and evolution of the anarcho-punk scene? Can you talk about your own zines in the early ‘80s and the way you managed to synthesize the ideas of punk and anarchism through zine publishing?

Zines were absolutely integral to the evolution of the anarcho-punk scene. They were the very lifeblood and communication network of the movement and the means by which ideas were organically developed and disseminated in the pre-internet age.

I produced three issues of my zine, Guilty of What? in 1982 to ‘83 which were probably the halcyon years of anarcho-punk. In terms of “synthesising” anarchism and punk, the name I chose for the zine was an almost unconscious attempt to do this, given “Guilty of What?” was both the slogan on a Sid Vicious badge I had following his arrest for murdering Nancy Spungen and also the title of an article I had seen in a copy of Black Flag or Freedom magazine about the Persons Unknown trial of anarchists facing imprisonment on bomb-making conspiracy charges.

Guilty of What #1 (1982)

I must say my zine was fairly typical of anarcho zines back then and by issue three was focusing near exclusively on the scene and its themes—articles about vivisection, the arms race, conscription, apartheid etc., together with interviews with Crass, Conflict, Flux, Discharge and the other big name anarcho bands du jour—including one of Napalm Death’s first ever write-ups as myself and founder members Nick and Miles, who were also similarly aged to me and also producing zines, had started communicating around the time Napalm Death were started as well as The Alternative, a Dunfermline band often described as “The Scottish Crass”.

I also put out a compilation tape of local punk bands called Look To The Future and compiled a follow up which featured early tracks by my own band at the time Distraught—we later changed our name to Political Asylum—plus A.P.F. Brigade, The Apostles, Napalm Death, Psycho Faction, and others. I must say it was only when I got into The Apostles and I would say I developed an understanding of what “real anarchism” was/is. Around that time, 1983, I found the anarcho-punk scene changed quite a lot and seemed to have lost a lot of its appeal so I ceased producing Guilty of What? and published the “militant anarchist” paper called ANGRY! which only ran for one issue but was given away with the first run of The Apostles 5th EP on Mortarhate Records as I had started drumming for the band by this time.

Cover of ANGRY! (1984)

You were part of the controversial band The Apostles. Can you talk about the zines, leaflets and propaganda produced by the band. Do you think that zines were the main source of spreading not only ideas but also rumours, controversies and tensions among the scene?

I joined The Apostles in Summer 1983, when I was 14. At that time, they were using Razzle of Hanoi Rocks as a fill-in drummer, but as I had recently left Political Asylum, Andy asked if I wanted to fill the drumming stool.

During their first few years—and, I hasten to add, prior to me joining them—The Apostles were, in my opinion, the best anarcho band ever musically and also in terms of challenging ideas.

The first EP, Blow it Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till it Breaks remains arguably the most important anarcho record ever released after Feeding of The 5,000 by Crass. It seemed like a sonic brick through the window of what had then become the “Crassifist” of “anarchy, peace and freedom” comfort zone, though perhaps surprisingly, and great testament to Crass’ commitment to the cause, The Apostles were the band who Crass chose to collaborate with on a number of projects such as the squatting of the Zig-Zag Club in December 1982.

Andy Martin and Chris Low recording the sophomore Apostles EP in the Summer of 1983.

That said, back then, there was this reverential Crass-clone mentality where everyone paid lip service to everything they said and did, in many cases quite unquestioningly. The Apostles were into armed struggle (all very naïve to think of now but headily exciting at the time) and class war (before the paper of that name ever came out) and—as opposed to Crass’s “black man’s got his problems and his way deal with it” line, or the absurd idea that “left wing/right wing” are no different and somehow equally dangerous—The Apostles supported physical opposition to fascists which was unheard of within the anarcho-punk scene of the time.

Front page of the fifth issue of The Apostles’ own zine SCUM .

That first EP was undeniably the most revolutionary record to emerge from the anarcho-punk scene up to that point, if not ever. It arrived at the zeitgeist of an increasing militant current developing within anarcho-punk and more than any other represented the seismic shift witnessed in the scene moving from pacifism to the anti-authoritarian direct action and activist position that now characterises anarcho-punk even more than the music.

Young Chris Low drumming for The Apostles in 1983.

Up to and including the time of that first EP the zines and leaflets Andy Martin produced really made you reassess much of what was hitherto regarded as carved in stone tablets within the anarcho-punk ideology. However, as I came to realise during my time with the band, The Apostles was Andy Martin. Not that I’m saying there is anything intrinsically wrong with that and it often takes one person’s strength of character and vision to produce great music and art but I was probably just a bit too precocious and strong-headed to acquiesce and wanted to be more pro-active within the band. As such we parted ways after the 5th EP was released which in hindsight was probably the best time to have done so as I’ve always felt since around that time Andy’s provocations have often ventured into territory which, wilfully contrarian or not, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable being party to, including the “controversies” I expect you’re alluding to. Needless to say I had nothing to do with The Giving Of Love Costs Nothing EP and have never even owned a copy myself. Nor would I want to.


How did organizations like Class War overlap with punk? What were the major anarchist groups at the time and how did they react to punk?

Before Class War there had never really been much of an overlap between punk and the anarchist movement. Most active anarchists were fairly scathing of these spiky haired upstarts who had adopted the ideology and symbolism people they knew may have been imprisoned and even tortured and murdered by oppressive regimes for promoting. The best known anarchist groups back then would have been Black Flag together with its associated Anarchist Black Cross / Cienfuegos Press whose best known member was the very sadly recently deceased former Angry Brigade defendant, Stuart Christie.

On the other end of the spectrum, you also had Freedom which embodied a more Kropotkin-esque non-violent anarchism and lesser known but equally influential the Xtra and Anarchy Magazine collectives, who both produced excellent papers which were to some degree precursors to Class War in that they promoted class struggle and non-pacifist anarchism. Most were fairly hostile to Crass and anarcho-punk in its earliest days simply because Crass’ politics never really engaged with the central tenets of anarchism—class struggle, workers’ power, collective ownership of production, antifascism, etc. And as such Crass’ relationship with “traditional” anarchism was always somewhat fractious.

However their Bloody Revolutions / Persons Unknown 7″ was pivotal in introducing punks to anarchist thought. It is particularly significant within the development of anarcho-punk for the list of contact addresses printed on its cover, encouraging those inclined to write to a miscellany of anarchist journals, radical bookshops, pacifist & feminist groups and other progressive, left-wing causes laying the ideological stepping-stones which the movement soon took to espousing as well as forging an underground communication network of fanzines, tape trading and activism decades before the advent of social media.

fanzine cover. chris collection (8)

Jumping ahead a year or two, it’s safe to say that what really introduced anarchism to punk and laid the ideological foundations for the anarcho-punk movement was Pigs For Slaughter fanzine which flagged itself as “The practical paper for the militant anarchist punk” and came out around the same time as the Anarchy Centre funded by the sales of Bloody Revolutions was opening. In its second issue, along with bomb making recipes {which was mindblowing in itself given most other anarcho zines were printing recipes for lentil stew at that time!), there was a mission statement/membership form for the Anarchist Youth Federation (AYF).


The AYF comprised of the more revolutionary/activist bands centred around the Anarchy Centre plus others and became part of the original Class War collective when Ian Bone brought Class War to London. At that time it’s probably accurate to say the only punk bands who were overtly militant and non-pacifist were The Apostles and associated Andy-Martin-off-shoot-acts—like Black Cross, Libertarian Youth, Luz Y Fuerza, plus Ian Bone’s Living Legends, and also—The Sinyx and The Assassins of Hope. That’s probably about it. Strange to think of now given how activism is the lifeblood of the anarcho punk movement but in its early days things were very different…. You might, in fact, be right to say more “hippy-ish”. You could certainly never have imagined punks being involved with something like Antifa back then.

Do you think that punk zines are an essential part of the anarchist propaganda and printing tradition in the late 20th Century?

I would certainly say the better ones are. In my opinion, without politics, whether anarchist, per se, or just progressive ie anti-racist, anti-sexist and against all forms of right wing and reactionary thought, punk is nothing apart from a style of music and a way of dress. That’s why I find it so bewildering and depressing how in recent years so many “punks”—and I will always use inverted commas when referring to these idiots—have embraced right wing politics, Trump/Boris Johnson worship, Rock Against Communism bullshit and even racism and anti-semitism. Not to mention falling for the crap pedalled by the Covid denial crowd failing to realise the entire agenda behind the anti-lockdown and anti-vaxxing movement (which is largely organised by the extreme right anyway) is if they can get people believing in “World conspiracies” and “questioning what we’re told” about a global pandemic that has claimed millions of lives it won’t be too hard to then get those same credulous mugs to “question” multiculturalism and, as is their ultimate goal in the rehabilitation of fascism, the Holocaust. Very sadly more people who regard themselves as “radicals” and “anti-authority” are falling for this bullshit by the day. Since when have fascists ever cared about “freedom”?

But rant over and to return to your question… Yes, in terms of the zines that promote political, social and cultural discussion but I’d perhaps say lesser so for the zines that concentrate solely on bands, musician interviews and record reviews, effectively putting the ‘fan’ back as a prefix to fanzine. I’m sure such zines do have their purpose and fulfil a service to the scene but I sometimes think one could make a convincing argument for them reducing punk as a voice of dissent to the situationist concept of “a spectacle” or, more specifically, simply entertainment… bands to watch on stages, records to buy from shops and merch to consume. But maybe I’m just over-thinking as it is something that does mean a lot to me.

Pigs For Slaughter #3

Zines are believed to have a crucial role in constituting new ideas and scenes within our movement in the ‘90s—Riot Grrrl, Queercore, Vegan Straight Edge, etc. Do you think that we are no longer coming up with new political ideas within the scene, and we can no longer see new zines being as influential as Homocore, HeartattaCk, Inside Front or Profane Existence used to be?

Absolutely. Zines allow ideas to develop organically within the scene before they can be assimilated and co-opted by mainstream culture as for instance the idea of DIY seems to have been to the extent all a promoter needs to do is append “DIY” to a gig or Festival and it seems it’s immediately endowed with some sort of credibility and is beyond reproach, allowing unscrupulous promoters and labels to flagrantly rip off artists and make large sums of money but escape criticism because they’re supposedly a “DIY” event or enterprise. As soon as ideas and principles become absorbed into mainstream culture they always become emasculated, diluted and compromised divesting them of being any challenge to the power structures these ideas threaten. I must admit my ignorance of many of the zines you mention—I imagine most emerged a while after the years I was most engaged with the anarcho-punk scene—but, sadly I don’t think I can imagine seeing the sort of zines that, for me in the early ‘80s were every bit, if not even more important than the bands they featured: Toxic Graffiti, Pigs For Slaughter, SCUM, New Crimes, Enigma, International Anthem, etc. I’d imagine the exchange of ideas and dialogue thrives just as vibrantly online but perhaps by the nature of that media makes them more ephemeral? I’m probably not the best qualified person to answer this but it is a very interesting question to consider.

Chris Low  with Oi Polloi in Berlin, 1987.

With so many years being part of the DIY scene and a broader experience with other music scenes like techno and DJ-ing, do you think that, thanks to zines, hardcore punk is the most self-documented subculture to ever exist in history?

Without doubt. Because with punk there is so much to engage with. You don’t just have the music and clothes but an attitude and spectrum of core, shared values which are about change and trying to make society a better, more equal and more inclusive place. Which is why punk has engaged with so many progressive causes from anti-racism to disabled and workers rights, support for women’s groups, the anti-nuclear and militarist movement… an endless list. And, in turn, there is a clear bloodline from punk activism to the anti-globalist movement and activity across the world today.

What do you think about digitizing old zines and making their content available online?

I think it’s wonderful and always try to help any project trying to do this. Zines are the true story of the punk movement and tell its narrative and document its progression more than any book ever can. If this can be made available for future generations or those wanting to gain a genuine understanding of the movement being able to view fanzines is imperative.


Now that you live in Japan, do you have some insight of the history of the Japanese punk zines to share? Are there any current Japanese punk zines you’re aware of?

Frustratingly, I’ve been back in London for the past two years now as Japan took the—wholly sensible I may add—step of closing foreign travel as soon as the Covid outbreak spread. As the Japanese are also habitual mask-wearers that had managed to contain the virus and keep infection rates low until their government forced through the absurd vanity project of the Tokyo Olympics which, not surprisingly, lead to an astronomic spike in cases. So fuck knows when I will be able to return now. Sadly. Perhaps it is surprising given what an enormous and vibrant scene punk Japan has but it doesn’t really seem to have the same zine culture punk has enjoyed in Britain or elsewhere in the West.

Perhaps because Tokyo is such an enormous metropolis a vast alternative world of punk run venues, shops, bars and even restaurants has emerged around the scene which might reduce the need to have zines as a media of communication as punks can literally communicate between each other in these literal spaces. I must add , however that the punk movement in Tokyo is about a lot more than just the music. In terms of political activism, most of the punks I know are very active in combating and protesting against the rise of the Nationalist extreme right in Japan, who really increased their profile under Shinzo Abe’s government to the extent I’d see Imperialist rallies outside Shibuya station every Saturday. They’re also active in anti-nuclear protests, particularly in the wake of Fukushima, which punks have raised a lot of relief money for as well as campaigning against nuclear power and the military expansion. More recently punks have been active in protesting against the Tokyo Olympics which are an obscene waste of money, as they are everywhere.

There are some amazing bands there too. My favourite are C who are a committed anarcho-punk band and sound very similar to early Crass or The Rondos. Their album is incredible and I used one of their songs to soundtrack the video I did for my first photo exhibition. Some other amazing acts to check out are LIFE who are simply the most incendiary punk band I think I have ever seen live, Piledriver who really remind me of early Oi Polloi, Stagnation whose sound is a unique segue of punk thrash and Einsturzende Neubauten-esque metal percussion, Asmodeus who are blistering early Antisect/Celtic Frost heaviness, Rocket, Slowmotions, Questions & Answers, Erections, Romance, Cheerio, Fraction, Diskriminatos whose singer Fernando was the very first Tokyo punk I ever became friends with and, of course legendary acts like Forward/Deathside, Gauze, G.I.S.M. and almost every time I go out to a gig I discover more amazing bands.

Funnily enough, one of the first times I was ever taken to a punk gig in Tokyo it was a party where the G.I.S.M. guys were playing Discharge covers. I didn’t even know who they were. Crazy. But amazing things ALWAYS happen in Tokyo. It’s an absolutely magical place.

Tokyo crasher crusties LIFE,  📸 Chris Low.

There are still a lot of punk zines in circulation today, from Greece to Brazil, or SE Asia. Do you believe zines are still as important today, especially in non-English speaking places of the world?

I would certainly hope so! I can’t really imagine looking at websites in languages I don’t understand but I’m always fascinated to see zines from anywhere in the world. To me zines are as much about their graphic design and visual presentation as they are about the text, interviews and articles; as much about how the ideas are presented as often that translates any language barriers. That is what makes zines such a vibrant and engaging media. No website or social media platform can ever equal that.

Thank you so much! Anything else to add?

Just to thank you again for the honour of being interviewed for your site and, in particular, for sending me such thought-provoking questions.

I’ve currently got a free photo exhibition running in Porto in Portugal till the end of August 2021 which can be viewed online. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to an anarcho-punk compilation album for Optimo Records which will be a benefit for the Faslane Anti-Nuclear Peace Camp in Scotland and should be out later in the year as well a new photobook of the anarcho-punk related photos I took in the early ‘80s, titled Best Before 1984, featuring photos I took of Crass, The Alternative, Oi Polloi, The Apostles, Conflict, Chumbawamba and many more plus demos I attended, squats I stayed in and some of the wonderful people I met back then, many of whom are still friends to this day.

Anyone wanting to find me can do so via my Instagram @chris__low. Check out some of my Tokyo punk photos, plus others I have taken in London and Los Angeles as well as Tokyo here. A number of my most popular articles for Vice on anarchism and anarcho-punk related themes are collected on my author’s archive, plus wanting to check out any of my DJ Mixes I have uploaded a load on Mixcloud. Also, check out my anarcho-punk megamix down below, on the same YouTube channel there are a load of Part 1 videos.

Oh, and anyone interested in having me design any graphics for their record cover please give me a shout and I’m sure we can come to an arrangement. I still work in the totally authentic early ‘80s cut up and paste style and have done work for bands from Oi Polloi to Fucked Up which I still think have a look that digital design can never replicate.

My final message to everyone is stay safe and be considerate of those around you at this time and always. Peace.

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