Inspired by the legacy of ‘90s metallic hardcore scene and empowered by their uncompromising vegan straight edge ideals, Germany’s CLEARxCUT are among the most dedicated European XVX bands at the moment.
The band’s new album Songs of Desire Armed is coming really soon via long standing straight edge label Catalyst Records, so I caught up with two members of the band to talk all-things CLEARxCUT and the political inspirations behind their new songs.
So, let’s start with the usual question, who are CLEARxCUT and what was the impetus to form the band? Did you have any sort of a blueprint for how you wanted things to run?
Matt: CLEARxCUT is a vegan straight edge collective. We founded the band out of our love for metal, punk and especially hardcore punk music. As a person who senses an intense feeling of grief about how this world works and what is happening to our human and non-human brothers and sisters I found a lot of comfort in the lyrics of vegan straight edge bands. I wanted to give something back and share my anger and my grief with other people who might find comfort in knowing that there are others out there who feel just the same.
Your new album Songs of Desire Armed is coming soon through Catalyst Records in the States. What influenced you writing these new songs and what issues do you deal with lyrically? What changed in the process of writing this album in comparison to For The Wild At Heart Kept In Cages?
Matt: Not much changed concerning the writing process. Unfortunately we had some lineup changes during the last two years. Some members couldn’t be part of the band anymore, others wanted to focus on new things in life. We will continue to carry all the amazing moments we shared together in our hearts and we wish all those who walked parts of our path together with us all the best.
All in all it was not easy for us to keep the band going while being confronted with all the different challenges of a worldwide pandemic. Nevertheless we are stoked, that other lovely human beings wanted to join the band and that we managed to write a bunch of new and quite powerful songs. Although she can’t be part of live shows and tours anymore Sarah did some additional vocals on the new album, which makes us really happy.
The biggest influence for me was—like on our first two releases—the degradation of the natural world, the oppression of human beings everywhere and the psychopathic way capitalist societies treat animals and the last intact ecosystems on this planet. The album is heavier than earlier albums and has more aggressive parts than before. Yet, we wanted to balance the anger and the depressing lyrics about ecocide and enslavement within so-called “civilized” societies with more uplifting and positive lyrics. There are songs on this record that try to battle negativity and depression, there is always hope and we wanted to write songs that transport some positivity in a world that throws so much negativity and destruction at everyone of us on a daily basis.
While your first EP, called The Vegan Straight Edge, was kinda self explanatory and CLEARxCUT’s 2019 album For The Wild At Heart Kept In Cages had a lot of anarcho-primitivist overtones, I guess the name of the new album derives from the post-left/egoist/insurrectionary anarchist imprint Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. As someone invested in social ecology and anarcho-communist ideas, I’m not really fond of neither primitivism nor individualist anarchisms. Have you ever been criticized for siding with ecofascists and such? Are primitivist or individualist ideas popular in Germany at all?
Matt: I want to make clear, that we are, and always have been, an antifascist band and we will continue to battle any form of racism and fascism (including ecofascism).
The name of our upcoming record was inspired by the journal’s title. Quite a few interesting and inspiring articles have been published in this magazine during the years and its title is simply powerful. Not all of us in the band share all the others political opinions in detail, but in general, we are an anarchist and antifascist vegan straight edge band. Reading the works of individual anarchists, like Thoreau, and anarcho-primitivists, like Zerzan, has been really important for me personally and I would not be the person I am today, if I had not read their books. Naturally, a lot of their ideas are reflected in our lyrics and songs, but in the end we aren’t political philosophers, but a band and songs are always limited in terms of discussing political thoughts.
In general, we are way more interested in bringing people together than in dividing them. In my view, a lot of anarcho-communist ideas are closely related to and intimately intertwined with individual anarchist thoughts and vice versa. In Proudhon’s ideas for example you find a lot of individual anarchist thoughts, but there are also a lot of social-anarchist and anarcho-communist ideas present.
We want to unite people who think that industrialized societies (call them capitalist, call them civilized) are destroying the natural world and degrading human and non-human animals to nothing more than slaves and commodities. We think that hierarchies are inherently destructive and that they destroy healthy human interaction and community. We think that nationalism is—as Einstein so eloquently put it—“an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.” We think that we need to fight for emancipation, for gender-equality, for a world that is worth living in, for all humans and for all the other lifeforms on this earth.
Gabbo: I would say I’m influenced by the writings of Kevin Tucker, John Zerzan and David Skrbina. Making emphasis in anti technological society, which also influences some of my writing for Implore. But criticism can come from anywhere these days, imagine I’m a South American immigrant in Europe who was illegal for a bunch of years and scored a passport upon ten years of being in Europe playing in a left-wing band with obvious topics, sideline it with ecofascism if you want and make a fool of yourself.
Are straight edge and veganism intertwined for you? What are your personal experiences and reasons to live a drug-free lifestyle, and do you make a distinction between straight edge and radical sobriety?
Gabbo: Veganism was a natural step forward when I decided to become straight edge, at this point I take veganism as the most rational choice, but I don’t care much about what other people do with their lives. When I heard about straight edge I thought it was a cool thing and was fitting my already sober way of life. Heavy music and sober people? Cool! Sign me up!
I see a lot of sober people being featured in the @straightedgeinterviews Instagram, I think that platform is doing something interesting and new for the community, but on the other side there’s a misconception between people calling themselves straight edge and having no link at all to hardcore. Straight edge comes from hardcore and there’s so much more to it than just the tag, it’s the connection to the community and the relevance it has in your personal life… but as I said before, I don’t care about what other people do with their lives.
Matt: For me, straight edge and veganism go hand in hand. They are both about living a positive life and respecting others. I live a straight edge life because I don’t want to harm myself, but more important for me is that I don’t want to harm others and that I want to show others that intoxication culture is ruining so many people’s lives. As straight edge identifying people we can be a “force of solidarity” (as written in the lyrics of our new song “My Anchor”) and help others, rather than being judgemental jocks looking down on people who are struggling with addiction.
It is similar to veganism. I don’t want to be a part of a society that sees animals and the natural world as nothing more than a commodity. I have the choice to not support the suffering of animals and the destruction of the earth. Of course veganism alone won’t save this planet, but it offers an opportunity to be less destructive.
It is all about positivity in a very, very negative world.
What’s your take on militancy within the straight edge hardcore scene? All these knives, guns, and ridiculous lyrics about waging straight edge holy wars, etc.
Gabbo: Is that a thing? I think that was the ‘90s or even early 2000s, political correctness is the currency nowadays. There might be a few nostalgic Hardline bands here and there but I see it more as a cosplay than as a real “activist move”.
Matt: I think that within the vegan edge scene you have a lot of people who are really fed up with how the world works. They are informed about the cruelties that are done to humans and animals alike in capitalist societies. A lot of people in the scene have seen the horrifying documentaries about industrial farming. They have read about the million different ways in which civilization is ruining this planet. So I really understand that there is a need to let off steam and to find a way to deal with all that negativity. Writing militant lyrics, dreaming about “fighting back” and “bringing justice”, playing downtuned guitars and screaming your lungs out is a way to do that.
While being confronted with societies that don’t leave much room to change them into something positive, for some people it can be empowering to write about getting active, to fight against injustice and to “wage a war for the animals”. I have found much comfort in vegan edge lyrics when I have been depressed about the shit that is going on in this world. That does not mean that I think all of those lyrics are great, that all of them are a work of reflective and philosophical thinking or a form of art. Of course some vegan edge lyrics are way over the top and of course you can find nonreflective and also stupid, toxic and macho people in the vegan edge scene as well. There is a lot going on that I don’t approve of, yet all in all, the music and the lyrics of many vegan straight edge bands have helped me to stay sane in an insane society.
Influential vegan straight edge bands like Wolf Down in Germany and 7 Generations in the States (more info here and here) have been canceled due to sexual harassment, rape and violence against women in the scene. How do you feel about that and what needs to be done in calling out perpetrators of such misconduct?
Matt: Of course I am shocked about sexual harassment, rape and violence against women everywhere and especially in the scene. I think each and everyone of us has to check their privileges and their behaviors every single day. We need to support feminist struggles and the fight for gender-equality everywhere, but especially in a male dominated scene like the hardcore scene. Sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia need to disappear everywhere and as soon as possible. We all need to be as open minded as possible and especially male-identifying people should try to talk more openly about their feelings, their prejudices and their behavior. It needs to be clear, that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
We need to listen to other people, respect their needs and boundaries and take them seriously. We should try to become the most positive, open and respectful versions of ourselves. In general we should try to do our best to create safe spaces and environments that enable every human being to be exactly the person they want to be and to create a community where everyone feels safe and is free to live the life they want to live.
You play in many other bands besides CLEARxCUT (ex and current members of Heaven Shall Burn, Implore, King Apathy, to name a few), how important is playing music as a form of self-expression in your life? Is it possible for punk to keep innovating and not become stuck in a specific musical or ideological framework?
Gabbo: Creating music and performing it is a great way of self-expression and therapy. We are open minded people and we try not to repeat ourselves neither in CLEARxCUT nor the other bands. The key is to listen to other music and to adapt other musical realms to yours. Good music is good music, whatever style it is and you can take ideas and transform them to your language, same with books, movies or visual artists. Everything can be soaked in to create something new.
Matt: Playing music is simply an activity that makes me really happy. When I spend time in recording studios, in tour vans, in rehearsal spaces or at live shows I have the feeling that it is the right thing to do. Music has helped me in so many difficult situations in my life. It is closely connected to so many great people that I met and I call my friends now. I will be forever grateful to have encountered scenes like the punk, hardcore and metal scenes.
Music offers a way to communicate the problems you face personally, but also the problems you see in the world. Scenes offer a way to communicate with others, to share beliefs and to find comfort.
I don’t think that all genres need to be innovative—necessarily. If something is great, then I am fine with getting more of that great stuff, but of course it is always a good thing to question traditions and to try to improve things. We live in a world where there are so many incredibly talented bands, that I can always find something new that is interesting for me. I am pretty happy with how punk presents itself today.
What are some of the hardcore bands you’re excited about at the moment?
Matt: Honestly, I mostly listen to older hardcore bands that aren’t active anymore. I really love all the classics from Minor Threat and Youth of Today to Earth Crisis and Have Heart. I think Gather is still one of the greatest hardcore bands ever and Propagandhi are hard to top in terms of punk lyrics. I am pretty happy about Knocked Loose and Turnstile and I enjoy listening to Basement and Title Fight a lot at the moment. I really love crust punk classics like Disfear and Fall of Efrafa. Morrow, who feature former members of Fall of Efrafa, just released a new full-length soon, which is fantastic!
Right now I am listening to a lot of Blueneck from the UK. If you are into atmospheric post-rock and ambient you should check out their record “The Fallen Host”.
I think I’ve lost a lot of motivation to write about hardcore punk since the start of the war in Ukraine. Do you think that hardcore punk music, the vegan straight edge and the DIY ethos in their broader sense can constitute a real alternative to the outside world on both a material and spiritual level?
Matt: Yes! I think that DIY culture, punk, hardcore and the vegan straight edge scenes can help to constitute an alternative, that will always be somewhat connected to “the outside world”, but that can really create safe spaces and a counterweight to mainstream culture. I strongly believe in the power of these subcultures to offer people a place to be themselves, to find like minded human beings and to create a community. These scenes and songs have helped countless people to get through their days and they will continue to be a spark of hope within a world that seems to fall apart.
Thank you for the interview, anything you would like to add?
Matt: Thank you for the interesting questions.
We want to thank all those who supported this band during the last years from the bottom of our hearts.
Always believe in yourself!