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For more than 40 years, Napalm Death have been part of the framework of extreme music.
The pioneering force in the development of grindcore, their political stance and socially and environmentally aware message have been as pulverising as their music. Napalm Death have attacked organised religion, the mass media, the mechanics of the music industry and every form of social and political injustice over the course of 17 albums and a myriad of EPs and split releases with like-minded acts. With their tour dates coming up in less than a month, vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway took some time to discuss Britain post-Brexit, his early days in the grindcore scene and what he thinks about the influence of Napalm Death on their audience.
HYSTERIA: Australian audiences are going to be seeing Napalm Death back on our shores again very soon.
BARNEY GREENWAY: I’m intrigued, really, because it’s been a longer gap than it would be with most places. So I’m really intrigued to see how things are. I think we’re playing a lot of the same places, as far as I can tell. It’ll be interesting, I think.
H: Back in the late 90s Napalm Death became quite the fans of Nasum because of their approach and political standpoint. You’ll be touring here with Wormrot, who operate in quite a similar vein.
BG: The Wormrot guys have obviously been on our radar for quite some time, and they’re doing some quite interesting stuff at the moment. Not just using the same old template. So I think it’s going to be some good gigs.
H: What are your thoughts on the social and political situation in the UK now? Before your last tour, Brexit was still very up in the air, but it’s gone through now. How has that changed things? Visiting the UK recently, the place seemed peaceful enough!
BG: North Korea looks like a peaceful enough place on the surface too! Obviously, [laughs] I’m joking a little bit there … it’s a tricky one really. This whole European set-up should be about the protection of human beings, the welfare of human beings. Not necessarily along financial lines, which is where it’s been drawn. I don’t think there’s any question that, if you look at the economics – and I hate to talk about this stuff, human beings is really my concern – but if you want to look at economics, the UK is definitely at a disadvantage from not being in the European Union. We could argue about the whys and wherefores, like Greece being put under forced austerity measures a few years ago, things I really didn’t like, but I think the idea of a social net, as in a union, is a good one in a lot of ways. Things have definitely changed. It’s become a lot harder to work as a band, although they have kind of normalising the touring situation where it was looking like we were going to have to get work permits, even for short trips, which would put touring on the Continent out of reach of a lot of bands. That would have been disastrous. It’s not turned out that way, but there are still other, deeper, issues that you consider if you’re playing music, especially if you’re really self-contained, as Napalm Death is. There’s a few things there that are problematic. As for the sovereignty argument – I don’t care about that stuff! It’s nonsense to me. I don’t feel any need for my Britishness to be protected in any way. I couldn’t care less about that stuff. It really is irrelevant to me.
I mean we have basically neo-fascist governments in Europe now, which was not heard of twenty years ago, but it’s never not been there – it’s up to us as human beings to break through that stuff and understand that existence is apolitical.
[ Mark “Barney” Greenway – Napalm Death ]
H: The Guardian ran a fantastic article recently about a podcast series covering the early 80s extreme music scene in Birmingham. It was great to see a story like that in a mainstream publication.
BG:The Guardian does a lot of digging beneath the surface. On a lot of things, not only music, and in a lot of respects The Guardian would be closer to the sort of scene because it’s a very left-leaning publication, so it would be more open to different things. The article you’re talking about was about the origins of The Mermaid in Birmingham and the punk scene and the political aspects of that scene – or apolitical, actually, if you want to look at it that way. I thought it was a really good article, actually. It was really well written and wasn’t just throwaway, surface cosmetic stuff. It went deep into the whys and wherefores – I thought it was a really good article.
H: You were part of that scene of course. When you look back at that now from such a distance, how much have things changed and how much has stayed the same for you, personally?
BG: Obviously in the Mermaid days was a person who was going to the gigs as someone interested in the music and the ethos. Both things went hand-in-hand for me, as they still do. But I wasn’t directly part of a band at that point, so it’s different in that respect. I would hope, in some respect, that Napalm has maintained that same grounding as the band had back then, around that time. We’re obviously not necessarily drinking scrumpy cider with dead flies floating around in it, which was a thing at the Mermaid! And at most of the venues we play now, there would be a much better outcome if there was a fire in there. As someone quite rightly pointed out in the [Guardian] piece, it would have been a disaster if anything bad like a fire would have happened. The sense of community there was at the Mermaid, until it all went south … not only did the venue close, but there was a lot of … there was an air of jealousy and spitefulness that came in. People talking a lot of shit behind each others’ backs and it just descended into not a good situation. It lost that sense of community towards the end. But when it was good, it was great, and I think on those days very fondly. Had it not been for the Mermaid, and, obviously, a few other things – people like Shane and Mick, our old drummer – I wouldn’t be speaking to you now. It was pivotal.
H: What is your personal outlook like right now? Do you find it a bit pessimistic, especially with regards to climate change and a lurch to the right? Does that worry you?
BG: If you want to take mainstream politics, which of course can be argued is not necessarily to be evolution of human beings … yes, because that stuff has made its way into mainstream politics – I mean we have basically neo-fascist governments in Europe now, which was not heard of twenty years ago, but it’s never not been there – it’s up to us as human beings to break through that stuff and understand that existence is apolitical. For the good of human beings we have to open our eyes, look at the signs, particularly if you refer to climate change – climate warming, I should say – and just understand that if we’re selfish and we don’t do anything, not only are we going to ruin it for the end of our lives, but for generations to come. Things have to be done.
H: How important do you think Napalm Death is for putting those issues in front of people and making them aware of them?
BG: I can’t put a meter on that, necessarily. All I can do, and all any band that’s saying things now and the many bands that were saying things that came before, is to do our best. All we can do is put ourselves out there, not be deterred, and just carry on. Because one more group of people that has that personal realisation is one more group of people, or person, that’s going to tip the balance and push things forward. We’re not about to turn the world upside down in a positive way – it would be foolish to say so, but we’re doing our best. Horrible saying, I suppose, but strength in numbers. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but better than there is a Napalm Death than no Napalm Death.
NAPALM DEATH with WORMROT performing at:
Sept 5th // Magnet House // Perth w/ Hexx
Sept 7th // Lion Arts Factory // Adelaide w/ Meth Leppard
Sept 8th // The Factory Theatre // Sydney w/ 12Gauge Rampage
Sept 9th // The Croxton // Melbourne w/ Extortion and Remains
Sept 12th // The Triffid // Brisbane w/ Awful Noise
Sept 15th // Meow // Wellington w/ Cuck
Sept 16th // Loons // Christchurch w/ Dole Bludger
Sept 17th // Galatos // Auckland w/ Knifed