Chris Dodd of Bad Breeding discusses lockdown, punk, Stevenage & Socialism
Whilst generations of artists, musicians and scenesters flock to their nearest big city to explore high culture and rub shoulders with like-minded people, Bad Breeding have made a conscious decision to stay submerged in the outer shadows of London, in their hometown of Stevenage, a muse to which their primary lyricist, Chris Dodd, draws his inspiration. In these shadows, Chris spins a web of defiance, outrage and pride, a divergence from punk’s nihilism. Although anarcho-punk, hardcore and D-Beat are the labels most typically assigned to them, it’s clear Bad Breeding are an oasis in a desert. Combining elements from the above with sludge, acid rock, jazz and a distinctly radical, working-class message, it’s high art for the masses. We caught up with Chris to discuss their latest release “Exiled”, life in lockdown and the state of the world.
You pushed the boundaries of what traditional hardcore would tolerate with your latest release Exiled, from screeching saxophones to seven-minute songs, how have you found the reaction to this from your fanbase?
People seemed to be into it, and I’m guessing some people hated it too, but for us writing records has never really been about trying to appease or appeal to what people are going to potentially enjoy. We’ve always tried to push the envelope when it comes to writing. As soon as you start going through the motions or playing up to all of the mimicry and homage playing, things start to lose purpose. The primary challenge is to avoid capitulating to mere revivalism and political dead ends.
Do you think a lot of bands play up to the mimicry and homage-playing?
There are some excellent bands that do it brilliantly and I suppose it depends on what the aims are in creating and performing the art in the first place, especially if people are putting in organising and community work around it too. I suppose the point I’m making is a wider one about the manifestation of echoed narratives in postmodernism, those old laboured tropes of no future. It comes off feeling hyper-individualised and is often succeeded by the distraction of wallowing in self-flagellation. When you’re consistently harking back to the methods and language of yore, you leave very little impetus for discussion around radical alternatives for the future. That’s not to say this band hasn’t found stylistic influences from older movements, but you’ve constantly got to be asking what next, what else…
On “Raking through the screed” you talk of “shallow badges squeeze my plight/ preening tourists line the sides” – could you expand on who exactly you’re describing?
I wrote those lyrics in response to what I felt were token – and wider careerist – interests in writing and defining the experiences of working-class communities, both in reportage and also in supposedly liberal “cultural” expressions too – sitcoms, films etc. I’ve spent the best part of my life in a new town that has endured the boot-end of neoliberalism and austerity and wanted to write something that represented a sense of fortitude in the face of all that pitying and extractive interest people seem to show in Stevenage and other peripheral new towns. The record itself sought to stand in defiance of all that’s described on it. It stood as a document of a town that proves to be a symbol of a global, systemic inequality, but not one that was simply accepting of it. I’ve felt there’s always been a tendency to orchestrate this portrayal of victimhood instead of illustrating a genuine appetite for resistance. Pushing the idea of helpless communities seems a lazy reading of my local experience given the staunch organising work of so many people in the town.
It’s clear that Stevenage is the backdrop to your lyrics, unlike most bands you haven’t all flocked to the nearest city to make it, do you think it’s important to be a hometown band?
It’s the town where I was born and has been the town we’ve all spent the best part of our formative years in. Everything we do has been in some way informed by our material conditions in Stevenage. People often talk of this desired notion of escapism from your hometown, but it’s a place that’s filled me with pride and admiration for large sections of the community. Stevenage bears the brunt of pernicious injustice and neoliberal profiteering every day but exists and endures on through. It’s home.
How has Stevenage informed your socialist politics and how have your politics changed from first release until Exiled?
The stark inequalities driven by neoliberalism are now so acute in Stevenage that you can’t hide from them. Intellectuals like to pretend that we live in this broken dysfunctional system, but things are working just as they should be. Capitalism exploits and extracts, reaping the spoils and dumping its waste onto communities like they’re little more than breathing slag heaps. Growing up here provides you with a material exposure to politics that gives you a better understanding of how to push for transformative change than you would learn from whatever educational institution gets flogged to you.
Stevenage’s creation itself has some interesting history in terms of approaching ideas of community. Plans for the New Town were formulated around aspirations of social connectedness presented in the New Towns Act of 1946. Stevenage was based on several self-contained districts all connected via cycle track and planned with a view to balance housing with access to green space. It wasn’t just utopian bollocks – architecturally it centred on its people and functioning communities, but I suppose it was likely also dogged by the profiteering of developers to some degree too. In terms of planning and wider political activism, I have a huge amount of admiration for the work of Monica Felton: a progressive town planner and writer who sat for a short period as the chairperson of the Stevenage Development Corporation. Felton was sacked after two years, expelled from the Labour Party and threatened with prosecution for treason after travelling to North Korea in ’51. Felton was a member of the Women’s International Democratic Federation and travelled to the region in search of discourse during the Korean War. Her work was awarded with the Stalin Peace Prize before she went on to join the World Peace Council. Imagine being castigated as a traitor and driven out of the Labour Party for standing up to imperialism. Imagine that… From what I’ve read, Felton seemed like a remarkable person, having also chaired the inaugural meeting of the National Assembly of Women a year after returning from North Korea, which sought to push for peace and disarmament. The women gathered on that night in St Pancras Town Hall also organised to highlight that women’s labour was still being exploited three decades on from supposed support for equal pay.
How do you think art looks in a post-capitalist society? Does art belong to everyone?
You’d like to think what we’re doing would be fairly redundant after that sort of victory. Making records at the moment leaves you open to all sorts of criticism in terms of being on a label and how that squares with your place in the means of production. In the battle to bring socialism into popular artistic discussion you have to make some concessions in how to ensure the message goes beyond the hackneyed circles and starts to filter into wider conversations. Cranks would probably get on your back about how being on a label is the highest form of capitalism or some stupid shit like that, but really it’s a decision we’ve made to try convey things as far and wide as possible. Sometimes you have to use what you can from the current framework even if you want to eventually dismantle it.
Art does not belong to everyone at the moment. That’s clearly evident given how it is hoarded as capital and moved about for the profit of a select few owners and exhibitors. A post-capitalist world would present a totally new dynamic in its use. In my view it would centre itself on social function. In some respects it could reflect the early work of people like Vladimir Tatlin and the other seminal Productivists, whose art and architectural design sought to fulfil the developing social requirements and industrial demands of the proletariat after the Revolution of 1917. I’d argue that postmodernism has stifled any sort of aspiration for radical changes to the way we approach the creation of art and its use as a driver for collective political opposition. It’s essentially provided narcissists with the chance to distance themselves from any material position. That sort of abstract detachment has led to years of work that seems to be more concerned with the pursuit of the ego behind it. It’s led to decades of pure aesthetic and rampant individualism.
What sort of impact has Covid-19 had on musicians specifically and how do you feel the government has handled it so far?
I can’t speak for other bands economically mainly because this one hasn’t been set up as a solely financial pursuit and it’s not something we necessarily look to for an income. We all work full-time doing varying sorts of labouring and manual work so much of this year has been spent just trying to keep our heads above water. In terms of response it has not been a surprise. The capitalist political economy is geared towards the extraction of surplus as profit for a tiny percentage of people so when you have a framework that prioritises the greed of individuals you’re never going to have access to a solution that provides protection for everyone. People will screech and cry about the barbarity of a Conservative response and rightly so – it has been callous, cruel and incoherently dysfunctional – but this is capitalism operating as capitalism does, lurching from one crisis to the next, while continuing to turn huge profits for whatever privatised answer gets peddled behind the dazzle paint. It’s crony capitalism at its finest. If one thing has been apparent since March, it has been the importance of local organising by working class people to try staunch the bleeding. You won’t find solutions in the pockets of Serco but you will in the solidarity of your neighbours and local communities.
What’s your take on Biden becoming the next president of the US?
At surface it could arguably provide some brief relief for oppressed people, but it does little to challenge the entrenched logic of capitalism that has dogged an American working class cut adrift in a globalised capitalist economy. Of course the defeat of a pro-business, far-right President whose term has emboldened racial hatred and sewn untold division should be something we all celebrate, but whatever way you look at it we’re talking about sock puppets for a system that is rigged to exploit and abuse. To me Biden represents facile moderate reform; not an end to the use of the state as an arm to protect the interests of the wealthy. It spells more insidious corporate dominance and a wistful return to a currency of US imperialism that has economically and socially hamstrung large swathes of working class people across the world. We have already seen examples this year, especially in the US and in pockets of the UK, of how a totally changed future could be possible and that is in the power of organised working class movements. I think that is where the excitement lies and where the work needs to be done, not through electoral politics or pro-Nato warmongering liberals, but through comradeship in each and every one of our local communities that continually take a battering at the hands of capital and the ruling class.
Lots of artists, particularly within punk, espouse a progressive or broadly anti-capitalist sentiment, how do you identify who really means it and who’s just buying into the aesthetic?
In some respects punk and the idea of resistance in artistic performance has been commodified so heavily that unless you’re doing it with organised political direction it’s just as anodyne and prescriptive as going to the shops for fags or a can of Coke. We reached a footing of rebellion in art as a commodity for consumption a long time ago now. We’re trapped in a mire where art is peddled either as a financially lucrative cultural identity or a badge of inert moralistic posturing. I think Fisher is a good reference for an analysis of dead-end culture and the fatalism that ‘alternative’ guitar music always seems to couch itself in. When it comes to art, liberals always seem to have this fascination with hiding behind the dogma rather than actually looking beyond ‘the end’. It might sound trite but there’s this wonderfully simple song by Farnborough’s finest Black Easter called Action Speak that serves as a good identifier for scabs and exploitative circus acts.
Outside of the punk, hardcore and metal spectrums, who do you find inspirational?
Michael Parenti. You don’t need much else. I read Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem recently and thought that was brilliant too. Any records by The Body. Don’t ask me why, but I went back to Elem Klimov’s Come and See over the first lockdown and am still trying to shake the dust from my soul every morning.