DIY Conspiracy
The (International) DIY Conspiracy

WAR//PLAGUE: Punk is a Way of Protest & Political Movement

"It’s ok to have a hardline stance against what’s happening in the world, but it’s also cathartic to be able to laugh along the way."

Hailing from the prolific crust punk scene in Minneapolis, WAR//PLAGUE have been going strong since the early 2008. Making anarchist politics relevant again and steering away from being a carbon copy of any other crust or d-beat band you can think of, these veteran punks still have something truly original, ferocious and radical to offer. 

With their 2018’s Into The Depths LP, the band has cemented its name as one of the most active, ever-evolving in their sound, and pushing the DIY community in a more activist direction crust/punk/metal bands of the last decade. Andy Lutz [main vocals, guitar] and Andy Lefton (Leffer) [back vocals, guitar] were excited to talk with us about the band’s origins, DIY punk ethics, political struggles, and the crust punk scene of today.

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Last year (2018), marked the 10th year anniversary of War//Plague as a band. So, where did it all begin? How did DIY punk and anarchist ethos shape the world to you?

Lutz: Leffer and I had been in Provoked together. After that band ended, we decided to start something new and continue down the path we had already started. Before Provoked, we had previously played in Pontius Pilate. I think we’ve been writing or playing anarcho-punk together for almost 20 years. The anarcho and DIY ethos have been ingrained into my life from a young age—if you want to do something, do it yourself. Don’t wait for anyone to hand it to you.

Leffer: Yes, both Lutz and I have been playing together for about 20 years and with the demise of Provoked, we just felt we needed to keep going. War//Plague rose from the ashes of all that and now looking down at 10 years, we’ve seemed to have accomplish quite a bit.

DIY punk taught me more about life, love and survival than any classroom could do. It completely changed the trajectory of my life and I am thankful to have it with the people involved. The true meaning of its ethos built such a firm grasp around me, it has become a part of my DNA. When I was young, changing the world felt so easy but it never was…or will be. Working on making yourself a positive force in such a messed-up world has lasting effects that sends ripples out to others, and that’s what changes the world.

To what extent had Minneapolis and its political punk scene influenced War//Plague as a band? I mean, bands like Misery and the Profane Existence collective were so important for the DIY community since the early 90’s, can you talk a bit about the good old times?

Leffer: For me, the Minneapolis punk and DIY community are one of the strongest. With its history and dedication from all ends of the DIY spectrum, it’s really a self-sustaining force. This was one of the reasons why I moved here in the 90’s and that turned out to be the best decision.

I originally came from Colorado and was active there in the punk scene, but the energy at that time began to turn into competition and didn’t feel like I was a part of something. I was indirectly involved with people in Minneapolis and felt it was time to move on. So, coming here was a breath of fresh air as I felt I was among my tribe.

I feel the Minneapolis “energy” has a direct influence on our sound. Not by trying to be like something, but taking the opportunity to have our own sort-of signature sound. Sure, we have influences, but the interesting thing about this area is some of these bands tend to have a distinct sound i.e. Misery, Man Afraid, Sevitude, Destroy!, State of Fear, etc. I think that’s refreshing, because you don’t seem to find many clone or carbon copy bands, at least from my experience.

We’ve been compared to Misery on numerous occasions. That was never by design, I just feel we may have picked up some of the sound and momentum as it’s always been a part of the territory.

The “good old times” was just that…good! I think punk for us actually gave us a future and the experiences, friends and community we’ve built over the years has brought us to where we are now.

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📷 John Oakes

Lutz: A lot of good times in the late 90’s and early 2000s. I started hanging out in the Minneapolis punk scene as a teenager. I remember going to shows at the Bomb Shelter (an infamous DIY space on the south side), and a few house shows among other spots. The last show at Bomb Shelter happened on my birthday. All hell broke out and there was a ‘riot’ with a bunch of cops, helicopters, etc. It was pretty intense at that time. Shortly after, I started playing in a few bands and have been involved with the scene ever since.

In the later 1990s there was also the Insurrection Center, a DIY show space/bookstore. Played with and saw tons of great bands there. I would go to Arise Books quite a bit too (gone now). They had tons of anarchist literature. Not to mention hanging out at Extreme Noise Records, Profane Existence, etc. The scene was very active and vocal about politics during that era, but we also drank heavily. Too many incredible stories from the Misery house to share. Could probably fill a book! I met a lot of great people that I’m still friends with today.

Things have changed through the years—more buildings, more condos, new faces, etc. But shows can still get pretty wild and that DIY mentality is engraved in this city.

What does protest punk mean to you? There has been a prevailing thought in some circles that music in general is meant to be about escapism, but isn’t it crust, or anarcho-punk, inherently political?

Lefton: Yes, I do believe that. From my point of view, punk has always been a way of political movement, however, it’s also been an outlet for the disenfranchised. I understand that it’s all perception, but inherently punk is political. Just look at the history, it’s in the music, lyrics, art, performance and overall aesthetic. It is the DNA of punk-rock. However, punk is also supposed to be fun. It’s ok to have a hardline stance against what’s happening in the world, but it’s also cathartic to be able to laugh along the way.

Punk is a form of escapism, as we rely on a subculture to exist “underground”, away from the norms of society. It’s therapeutic to the spirit to disassociate from what’s harmful on the surface and engage in something that gives meaning to your life. This whole idea of mass consumption, media drivel, divisive politics and the reign of “progress” has pushed us into a corner and that’s not where I want to be. So having this idea that we can create our own community based on the angst the world has given us, is very enticing.

Lutz: Totally agree. For me, punk, and especially anarcho/crust punk, has always been political. It’s a way for people to express their outrage and a way to connect with like minded people. But it’s also a way to release frustration and pressure, it makes you feel better. There seem to be some bands trying to get away from that, maybe they feel like it’s too preachy or something. But no matter what, I feel like that socio-political angst should always be at the heart of this style. Obviously, people can do whatever they want, but for me it has to have some element of that.

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📷 Brian Santostefano

Do you feel there are enough bands who fit into the term protest music today? What if these bands are not strictly DIY and make money out of their art and music?

Lefton: There can never be enough, especially where things are currently headed. Direct action needs to be back in the forefront. Our world has become lazy with online debate, the clambering need to feel popular over what’s truly important, it’s become hazy.

There’s punk, then there’s “tribute” punk. I’m happy with the 3-chord punk mayhem that we all know and love. However, when you ride the coattails of another’s idea and sound, that’s not protest, that’s plagiarism.

Making money from your art should be allowed, even more so if it’s “DIY”. Fuck that idea that you can’t have some kick back off your own work. But, the DIY ethos are the driving force in punk, it keeps the dirty paws of business out of our values. If you’re into the business side of making music, that’s not punk, it’s just industry and the antithesis of what makes punk autonomous from the rest of the world. It’s a labor of love, always has been.

Lutz: I feel like I’m seeing more protest driven bands, which is great. There’s plenty to be upset about these days, no matter where you live. If you’re out there busting your ass, putting out records, touring, etc., you should get something for your time and hard work. But if you’re in a band with themes about oppression, equality, anarchism, etc, you shouldn’t be turning around and selling your music to the highest bidder or playing “corporate” shows just to line your pockets.

If someone wants to make a living off of their music, more power to them, but don’t do it under the guise of anarchism. There’s a fine line between getting paid and selling out.

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📷 Brian Santostefano

How do you see the state of crust and stenchcore today? What do you like about this kind of music and how does it differ from the past?

Lefton: I love it. Outside of the classic anarcho stuff, crust and stenchcore are definitely my thing. That genre has been an evolution in the punk-rock ladder. What I mean is that we went from this minimalist structure to a more defined and thought out process of writing our music. Sure, the lyrical content is grim, however it speaks volumes in regards to our world.

Todays crust is fantastic, but the gamut of it all has changed as for what’s really crust. Many bands that claim d-beat will also claim crust, which is fine but it blurs the lines…not that I really care. What I do care about is function, not fashion. 80’s and 90’s crust was superb and do miss how the music and message was constructed then. Much diversity in the realm of song writing back then. Tons of stuff that just gave way to a time that will forever be remembered as important in our DIY tribe. Listening to SDS, Lost World, Health Hazard, Ebola or State of Fear just had this incredible impact on me, and still does.

I love what’s happening these days, but I’m a bit more leery as I assume It’s an age thing. “Dis” is dead, however it’s being flogged so fucking hard now that all we’re getting is carbon copies of carbon copies. Punk, crust, etc. is about the energy, love and commitment to what’s in our hearts, so having countless clones spit out this regurgitated noise is a bit disheartening. And that’s where I see the difference between then and now.

Lutz: I still love the style, genre and message. But I do worry that there are too many bands trying to sound like other bands and not forging their own path. At the same time, as long as the message is there and their hearts in the right place, have fun!

Hopefully, these bands will grow and create something new. I just get a little bored with a bunch of bands all trying to do the same thing. They can play within a style, but it’s always more interesting if you try to bring your own thing to it. I’m not saying reinvent anything, just try to evolve. I hear too many kids say, ‘I wish I was around in the 90’s or 80’s, I was born to late, blah, blah, blah.” Then they try to recreate that time and way of life for themselves. But they will never be able to recreate it. At the same time, they can end up creating something new by doing that. But there’s also the possibility of getting trapped in a hole.

Anyway, I think there’s a lot of great new bands out there today and I hope we get the chance to play with them!

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📷 John Oakes

What are some of the most troublesome political issues in the world today? Most of the classic punk and early crust came in an era of Cold War confrontation when the threat of a nuclear war seemed very real. Your band’s name and influences also draw from this tradition, so what’s different in the world today and how’s Trump different than Reagan, for example?

Lefton: Man…I don’t even know where to start. I can probably start by saying that I can’t believe what we are experiencing currently in our lives. The majority of our punk forefathers, current and otherwise never saw things get so intense. Sure, the Reagan era is still very clear to me, but we are now in a much different world. Media (both social and network) has distorted our socio/political climate so drastically, that there is a universal feeling of distrust and divisiveness.

Personally, I have had to put myself in check to avoid getting in trouble. My inner tendency to act on impulse has been challenging to keep at bay. This is where our underground community has come in to play for me and give me a sense of balance. The world is out of control, and we have to sit here and watch it eat itself. So, what do we do? The elite have all the say, the media continues to control the mass of drones. And as I type this, I’m reading about 50 people in New Zealand were killed due to a terrorist that was inspired by the US presidents rhetoric.

The optimist in me sees this as the last of a dying breed, possibly a transition into a better world as the old world dies away. I strive to believe in the latter, because for me, the music and culture we live for believes in that.

Lutz: There are really too many to mention… unfortunately I don’t see much changing anytime soon. Trump has really set the world back by decades. Reagan and the Bushs were bad, but Trump takes the cake. He wants to be a dictator, no doubt about it. So I guess the most troubling thing for me is that there doesn’t seem to be checks and balances. He’s not held accountable and thinks he’s above the law. He can literally get away with murder and half the country doesn’t care or they’re too stupid to care or they’re just straight up misinformed. He has called the media the enemy of the people and wants people to only listen to him.

I mean, we have children in cages separated from their families, he’s trying to take away a woman’s right to choose, he’s trying to take away transgender rights, he doesn’t care about the environment, he’s destroying healthcare, he’s obsessed with building a bullshit wall. The list goes on and on and on. Obviously, there is a large part of the country that wants him and his administration gone, but he is corrupting things so much with lies and disinformation, it’s not an easy battle to win.

It’s terrifying to think this clown has the nuclear launch codes. I don’t know if that answers the question, but I think that’s the big difference between now and then. There’s more access to media, which means more ways to find out the truth, but it also means there’s more ways for people to spread lies. Trump can just ‘tweet’ something and in his follower’s eyes it is now truth. I mean, Fox News is basically State Sponsored Propaganda.

I think the realization that we are at the start (if not already) living in an “Orwellian” world where the oppressed have no voice is truly scary. I dunno, this shit really gets me going… but at the end of the day, I have to believe we can stop it. We have to keep fighting and screaming or they win. And that can’t happen.

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📷 John Oakes

Do you ever feel there are seemingly irreversible events you rail against wearing you down? If so, how do you combat this fatigue and disappointments?

Lutz: Oh, for sure, life in general wears me down. That’s a big part of what I write about. This band is a way for us to combat those disappointments with the world in general. It’s an outlet to get those frustrations out. Music, art, writing, cooking or whatever. Those things can all help alleviate that fatigue. But those things can also cause stress. No matter what you do in life, I think you’re going to run into fatigue and disappointment. Sometimes you just need to take a breather, do something that makes you happy, then come back refreshed and ready to do all over again. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe you won’t. The point is to not stop or give up. You’re not going to change the world over night, but you might cause a dent. Then the next person comes along and they cause a dent and so on.

Lefton: It’s been tough lately. All the red flags our politically charged punk forefathers warned us about have come to fruition. Sure, we had the Reagan era, but currently, we not only have that nuclear threat, but right-wing domestic terrorism happening so often that it’s become normalized. The political infrastructure is blatantly corrupt, racist and willing to kill its own people for its own depraved agenda. There’s a rampant effort to push the anti-intellectual movement into the mainstream and it’s working. So yeah…it wears you down.

However, there is a reason we’ve been a part of something that’s separated us from the world at large, and that’s by design. The music, the movement and the general camaraderie has always been an underground movement. Not just politically, but also on a level that is therapeutic to the human spirit. It’s not throwing in the towel on a world that’s bent on suicide but rather bringing together a community of folks that can work together without the influence of the tattered and sick masses that’s plagued the surface.

Personally, writing things of this nature and communicating with other like-minded folks is great therapy as it gives a sense of hope that we’ll pull out of this together. Although harmful, the current political climate is temporary and putting words out there that can positively influence a better world is a damn good start to healing.

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📷 Brian Santostefano

What are the projects that fall under the umbrella of Organize and Arise? Do you think that DIY punk can still be a place for important conversations and organizing?

Lutz: I’ll let Leffer tackle that one, but I totally think DIY punk is a place for important conversations. It’s grassroots. It’s one of the best way to get things done and learn from each other. I think it’s still as relevant and important as it’s ever been.

Lefton: Yes, and that’s precisely the point. Communicating, working for the greater good and strengthen resistance against this forsaken place. Hitting the streets and screaming our lungs out is effective and proves the point. However, there’s strength in every facet of communication as well and it all adds up. Social media, like it or not has its benefits…and downfalls. It’s a tool that can be utilized to share ideas, organize and work for something that can have a lasting positive effect in a truthful and honest way. This is not a suggestion to stay introverted, because we all suffer from that. Rather, it’s about breaking out of our comfort zone, utilizing these tools to gather, share and explore new options.

As for Organize and Arise, the agenda is quite loose. I don’t really have any specific plan as I like to keep it small and for the reason that I’m the only one running it. It’s been a good asset in helping to release some WAR//PLAGUE music and I’ve focused on other projects as well, but at some point, would like to expand. It’s a community thing, really.

Outside of releasing music and online webstore, O&A also operates as a blog, forum, facebook group. and also booking/promoting bands that come through the Minneapolis area. I’ve had O&A since 1993 which started out as a distro for tapes and screen printing punk shirts and I’ll continue for as long as I can.

Thanks a lot for your time. Anything else you would like to add?

Lefton: Thank you, DIY Conspiracy for giving us the opportunity to share our thoughts with you. It’s vital that we all communicate and keep the dialogue flowing. To everyone out there that’s struggling personally or with the world, you’re not alone. Reach out, this community was built on friendship and holding each other up. Take care.

Lutz: Thank you for the interview, we appreciate the support! Not a whole lot to add. Just remember that we’re all in this together and try to be good to one another.

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