Known by some as the “Godfather of Vegan Straight Edge”, Rat is an old punk from the UK who has been involved in the punk scene since the age of 14. As both a vegan straight edge kid and a huge admirer of early 80s anarcho-punk scene, my purpose of conducting this interview is to trace back the history of vegan straight edge and learn about the impact that Crass and their bandwagon have had on the earliest VSE bands (Statement, Vegan Reich, etc.)
Well, let’s get this right from the beginning. Do you mind to share some background about how and when you first got involved with DIY subculture and punk music?
I first got into punk in 1979 after hearing Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious had just died. I don’t know why, but I was intrigued and ended up buying the 7” Pretty Vacant, my first ever record. That led onto listening to many other bands from that era, and then in the early 80s, the “second wave” of punk, as it is now referred to.
Vice Squad would have been one of the first “UK82” (as it’s now known by) bands that I have gotten into, as that 7” was the first release on Riot City Records. Then came the mighty Blitz 7” Someone’s Gonna Die on No Future Records. If anybody reading this hasn’t heard that 7”, hit youtube now!
Many bands followed, with those two labels being the most prominent, with over 40 releases each. Also around this time, the anarchopunk scene had kicked off, with Crass and their record label Crass Records releasing also over 40 records.
It was the anarchopunk that really got my attention. I already had a few Crass Records releases, but Flux Of Pink Indians 7” Tube Disasters has been the game-changer for me. The B side had two songs, Background of Malfunction and Sick Butchers. Both songs about animals and the way we (mis)treat them. These songs got me thinking, to the point that I stopped eating animal flesh at the age of 16. A year later I went vegan.
Around this time I’d written a letter to a glossy punk magazine called “Punk Lives!” The letter asked for people with similar ideas (vegetarianism, anarchism), to get in touch. I was swamped with mail, I couldn’t believe it! I made many friends from corresponding through snail mail!
A friend from school was going out with the guitarist of a local punk band called Final Verdict. I’d asked if me and a couple friends could come and watch them practice. We turned up at their practice for me to be approached as they knew I had a drum kit. They couldn’t get to their drums as the key couldn’t be found, so, they asked if they could borrow mine.
I was well excited by this, “of course!” They borrowed my drums. This was 1982. Months later that band had broken up but the guitarist was starting a new one and asked me if I wanted to play drums. Despite not being very good, the guitarist listened to me playing and let me in the band.
One day, not long after, I was in my local town and bumped into the old singer from Final Verdict who was also the vocalist for the new band. We had a chat and I quietly mentioned that I was a vegetarian. “Yeah, so am I”, he replied. I was gobsmacked! I’m gonna be in a band of which the singer is also a vegetarian, this is gonna be brilliant!
La Masque was born. It turned out that the bassist was also vegetarian. We even had a song called “Meat eaters die!” That was funny with the guitarist being an animal flesh eater. We played a few local gigs, mainly animal rights benefits. I started out as the drummer but then moved to guitar when the original guitarist left as he’d moved away. As in true punk rock stories, his dad was the local vicar!
Around this time, I’d somehow heard of the cassette 4 track recorders, so I bought one. I’ve recorded a few songs and thought I’d release them as a demo, which was the big thing in the punk scene back then. I decided on the name Statement, as that’s what I was doing, making statements about the shit that was going on around me.
In total, I released 8 demos. The first one was released in 1985. Also around this time, after meeting a lad at an animal rights meeting, another band was formed, Muted Existence. All members of this band were vegetarian/vegan. We did a handful of gigs.
Another band around that time I helped to start was Arrogance, again playing a few gigs and releasing a demo. Incidentally, I have just released a limited 7” by Arrogance, to old songs re-mastered and two brand new songs, with two original members, Gary (formerly bassist for Muted Existence, and myself).
What does anarchopunk mean to you? When did anarchopunk merged with animal rights and veganism? How did the ALF and the whole animal liberation movement shaped the punk-rock and hardcore scenes both in the UK and the States?
It moulded me. It made me question. After first turning vegetarian, I realised things I was being told were wrong. So, it made me question everything. I remember one day, while in a debate with my dad, he said “you think too much.” And that was a bad thing?
Anarchopunk wasn’t necessarily a veg*an thing, though, many were, and it was kind of expected that you would be. If it wasn’t for anarchopunk, especially the bands that sang about animal liberation, the vegan/animal rights movement would NOT be as big as it is today, there is NO arguing that! People that aren’t even into punk or hardcore may very well not be vegan if it wasn’t the way punk spoke out against animal abuse.
Sabbing (stopping fox hunts) was full of punks! Of course there were hippies, “normal” looking people, but punks were the dominating factor! Same with animal rights demonstrations or ALF actions, punks were heavily involved.
Were the early 80s anarcho-punk bands leading a sober and drug-free lifestyle, even if they didn’t call it straight edge? Did you like Minor Threat when you were listening to bands like Crass, Flux, Conflict, Riot/Clone, Exit-Stance, etc. back then?
No! Anarchopunk did have a drug-use issue, and alcohol for sure. In fact, punk always has had this issue with alcohol, it’s the punk thing to do, get pissed! I don’t understand it, non-conforming by… conforming? Glue was still an issue to some extent with some of the anarchopunks.
I was never into Minor Threat, or any other straight edge band of that era. The US thing never got me, I was only into the Dead Kennedys.
When was the first time someone used the term Vegan Straight Edge? What’s the world’s first vegan straight edge band and what’s the story of the bands you’ve been involved in prior to the birth of Vegan Reich / Statement?
Ha, well, if you read about Hardline on wikipedia, it states that I came up with the term Vegan Straight Edge. I’ve recently spoken to Sean Muttaqi (Vegan Reich) about this, and he confirms that it was me! Despite being drug / alcohol free for well over 30 years, my memory is terrible.
Hmm, the first vegan straightedge band? Well, possibly Vegan Reich, but, for myself, and I think Sean, I’ve never called myself Straight Edge. I was drink/drug free before I’d even heard the term Straight Edge so I didn’t see the point labelling myself as such.
But if you ask this question to others, they may say the first Vegan Straight Edge bands were in fact Vegan Reich and Statement, although, to be picky, Statement was never a fully fledged band, being just myself.
As well as the bands that I mentioned above I was in, I drummed on 6 songs on the first The Apostles LP Punk Obituary that was released on Mortarhate Records (Conflict’s label) in 1986.
I joined Riot/Clone on guitar in around 2003. We played a few gigs, including the Barry Horne memorial gig in 2002 at The Astoria in London, it was a great gig with Conflict, Active Slaughter, Inhumane Nature (US) and many other bands. In 2003 we (Riot/Clone) went into a shitty studio in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and recorded the Mad Sheep Disease 7” which was released on Alternative Records from the U.S.
Among the many punk bands of the 80s, there’s one particular band that stands out with its tremendous controversy. What’s the link between the early Vegan Straight Edge and the band The Apostles?
Uh, link? Well, I’d say there isn’t one, apart from maybe, my involvement with The Apostles. As I said earlier, I drummed on their first LP and helped them record two (I think!) of their LPs on my 4 track recorder, one of which was released on No Masters Voice, Sean’s label prior to Hardline Records.
I also did a project with Dave Fanning of The Apostles called The Children. I plan on releasing a limited 7” (50 copies) of The Children and Thee Disciples (Dave’s solo project) sometime in 2017.
The Apostles certainly influenced me tremendously. With lyrics like “Glue up the locks of all the banks and butchers, or kick them in… Spray a message of hate across a Bentley, or smash it up… Sabotage the meat in supermarkets, or poison them all… Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his wealth… We’re knocking on the door, we’re taking no more, this is class war!” this was bound be to an influence in the way we were thinking at that time.
What are some of your all time favorite punk and hardcore records? Can you pick up some records from your own collection and tell us why do they have a special place in there?
Way too many to really think about carefully, so I’ll just go with what springs to mind.
- FLUX OF PINK INDIANS – Tube Disasters 7” (1981): Pivotal moment for me to stop eating animals.
- BLITZ – Someone’s Gonna Die 7” (1981): Such rawness, perfect punk.
- THE APOSTLES – Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till It Breaks! 7” (1982): Lyrics from one song quoted above.
- EXIT-STANCE – While Backs are Turned 12” (1985): Perfect animal rights anarchopunk.
- VEGAN REICH – Hardline 7” (1990): The start of an era, which helped keep the animal rights banner flying high.
As I said above, there are so many amazing records that have helped me through my years, though, mainly from the early 80s. I’d be here all day listing them all!
What do you think about the resurgence of 90s hardcore and all the band reunions happening all the time? What about reunions of bands who are no longer straight edge/vegan?
The bands that have reformed and are no longer who they were, well, that really pisses me off. Just start up with a fuckin’ new band, fuckin’ assholes!
What does vegan straight edge mean to you today? How have your feelings about it changed most recently? Why do you think some people still live in a terminal guilt about what someone has said during their teenage years in a bad interview or poorly written song lyrics 25 years ago?
The past is the past, we all make mistakes, we all change.
Generally, I’ve become far angrier over the years. Things don’t seem to be getting any better, and with our population growing, I can’t see how things are gonna get any better. Sure, there are more people becoming vegan, but there are more people breeding more consumers.
As for straight edge, I’ve never really cared about it that much. If people aren’t harming others, human or non-human animals, I don’t really care what they do. What does concern me though, is when people are so into straight edge then sell out on it, I just wonder if selling out on the animals is the next thing. Now that does concern me.
How do you think the election of Donald J. Trump will affect the punk community in the next few years? To what extent does fascism take root in Europe and America right now, and how scary is that?
I think it will affect it in many ways. For a start, more to be angry about! Anger keeps punk going. The negative impact will be the censoring that I’m sure will come along with it, as well as the racism, which has started already.
It’s no different here in the UK where Brexit has spawned a rise in racism, people stupidly thinking “leave” meant non-British people having to leave the UK. Trump and Brexit is really not a good thing to the world in general, it’s scary times ahead.