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October 1995
More Than Noise: Punk Rock and Animal Issues

By Rochelle Goldman


If anyone reading this magazine agrees with the notion that punk rock is just another form of loud music sung (or screamed) by a bunch of violent freaks only to shock people, you’d be completely wrong. Similarly, if you assume the topics treated by the largely unintelligible lyrics cover the realm of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, you’d be mistaken. Punk rock encompasses many political and social issues including anarchism, homophobia, feminism, racism, environmentalism, and animal rights. There is even a faction of hardcore punk which rejects smoking, drinking, drugs, and meat-eating.

It was European anarchist punk bands who introduced lyrics concerning vegetarianism and animal rights into their records. An example is from the English band The Subhumans’ ‘Evolution’: “Out in the garden there’s a little white cat/And you’re catching cancer as you smoke that fag/“When will they find a cure?” you choke/When enough cats have died of smoke?/And they say that animals go for the throat.”1 Punks include speciesism as one of the oppressions put forth by the mainstream society. From Corrupted Ideals’ ‘Don’t Wanna’: “Don’t wanna support no pointless slaughter/Don’t wanna eat no rotten meat/Don’t wanna carve no holiday turkey/Like the sitcom morons on my TV.”2 Citizen Fish, in their song ‘Flesh and Blood’ covers the ethical, health, and world hunger issues: “The meat you eat is wrapped up neat/You didn’t see it bleed/And what you kill does not fulfill/ Your dietary needs... You could feed a lot of needy/People with the grain they feed/To cows.”3

North American punks have introduced veganism, a philosophy which has been embraced by the recent trend called “straightedge.” This term was coined from the Washington DC band Minor Threat’s 1981 song of the same name. Straightedge hardcore (hardcore is a fast version of punk) emphasizes health, self-discipline, and self-control. This scene rejects alcohol, tobacco, drugs, meat-eating, and anything else which is addictive. Their reasoning is that society is so laced with these activities, that not engaging in them is truly rebellious and conducive to true change.

One of the biggest and most influential straightedge bands was New York’s Youth of Today. From ‘No More’: “Meat-eating, flesh-eating, think about it/So callous to this crime we commit/Always stuffing our face with no sympathy/What a selfish, hardened society.”4 One of the most popular and most militant current straightedge bands is Earth Crisis. In fact, the ad from their latest album describes them as New York vegans. From ‘Eden’s Demise’: “To end the enslavement and the slaughter the antidote is veganism. Don’t let your outrage for injustice end where your selfishness begins. I have conquered through self control... A peaceful world can evolve after animal liberation.”5 As in the animal rights movement in general, there are disagreements within the punk and straightedge movements. There is the view that many of the bands are becoming too hardline, preachy, and self-righteous. I have been to recent punk shows where the bands ridiculed the straightedge punks, pointing fingers to audience members and yelling, “Are you straightedge?” in an accusatory fashion. On the other hand, I also attended an all straightedge show this past year featuring Earth Crisis, Snapcase, 108, and Shift, where most people wore animal rights T-shirts, there was tabling, and possibly most pleasant of all the air was free of tobacco smoke. I could breathe!

Another controversy concerns some bands’ involvement with the Hare Krishnas — such as Shelter, with Ray Cappo, formerly of Youth of Today. Punks traditionally have rejected any religious ties, seeing religion as oppressive and linked to the Establishment. A highly controversial stance which Earth Crisis adheres to is the pro-life argument.

Aside from the content of the music’s lyrics, other modes of communication in the punk/hardcore scene include fanzines (magazines put out by punks for punks). Many fanzines convey information and opinions about animal rights and vegetarianism/veganism. There are also specialized straightedge fanzines. For example, XCatalystX ’-zine #3 (The straightedge emblem is “X” — it is also abbreviated to “SXE”) is put out by Catalyst records in Indiana. This issue has an ad for Vegan Action and a two-page spread containing quotes and reactions concerning the horrors of factory farming. It also has interviews with the bands Split Lip and Mouthpiece, and ads for other SXE ’zines such as Mobil, XSiegeX, and Frontline Fanzine. One easy way to get a hold of fanzines with animal rights issues in them is to buy a major ’zine such as Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll or Punk Planet, and look up the ’zine reviews where they will describe the content of each ’zine. In New York, visit “See Hear” at 59 East 7th Street.

Punk bands have released benefit compilations for animal causes. ‘A Kinder Gentler Genocide’ — a benefit for the Coalition to End Animal Suffering — features The Creeps, who deal with the hunting issue. From ‘Have Gun Will Fire’: “You butcher us to stuff us/You slaughter us for fun/Brag about our lifeless bodies/And you’re happy with what you’ve done!” I recommend the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ compilation benefiting Adopt-A-Cow, The Animal Liberation Front, and Animal Rights Mobilization. The CD contains a booklet. From the bands Juvenocracy: (“A spike falls down on a baby seal/The blood from his wound is warm and real” from ‘Through their Eyes’) and Transcend (“Take what you want, but don’t question its origin/It’s better you didn’t know, but would you even care?” from ‘Product of Greed’).

If you’re interested in checking out some hardcore bands, the best place in New York is the all-ages, all-volunteer collective ABC No Rio at 156 Rivington Street. There, on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon, in addition to seeing several bands, you can purchase records and CDs, fanzines, and T-shirts. If you want to zero in on the animal issues merchandise, ask Neil (with the band Final Warning) for information. He’s vegan and very friendly. Also, the club Wetlands has hardcore matinees on most Sundays. Coney Island High, on St. Mark’s Place, hosts hardcore shows too.

For more information and quotes, pick up the 1995 book The Philosophy of Punk by Craig O’Hara published by AK Press. This book was helpful in writing this article. Three words written along the front cover explain why punk’s not dead: “More than noise.”

1. Evolution EP — 1983
2. Antifaction 7" — 1993
3. Free Souls in A Trapped Environment — 1990
4. We’re Not in this Alone LP — 1988
5. Firestorm EP — 1993

Rochelle Goldman has been into punk music since 1978. She is a college radio deejay on WUSB Stony Brook. AK Press can be reached at P.O. Box 40682, San Francisco, CA 94140-0682.



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