Is there a more outspoken, defiant and inspiring band than Dawn Ray’d, active right now?
The scouse anti fascist trio are the perfect combination of Crimethinc radical self determination welded to a steamroller of black metal punk fury. Following the release of the their latest 7” Wildfire on Prosthetic records, we caught up with vocalist Simon Barr to talk about the origins of the band, community activism and playing beneath a snipers watchful gaze in the forests of Oregon…
Dawn Rayd appeared (to me at least) as a fully formed entity, this suggests either a positive conspiracy of circumstances or that you’d previously refined your craft elsewhere….what’s the origin story? Were you all in bands before?
Haha I like the idea of Dawn Ray’d being a conspiracy, I’ll have to push that line more…
Me and Fabian used to be in a band called We Came Out Like Tigers and Matt filled in drums for the last couple of tours for us as well, we had toured with his previous band Black Mass too which is how we met. So yeah we were pretty well versed in writing recording, touring etc. We Came Out Like Tigers had started to falter, and we said the next band we would do would be a straight up black metal band, as that was all we were listening to at that point anyway. We started working on it behind the scenes and didn’t announce anything until it was ready to go.
Despite it’s outsider image, metal doesn’t have the best track record for radical politics..how were you introduced to the ideals that Dawn Rayd is determined to spread?
I met Fabian in 2008, and we were both looking for answers to the problems we saw in the world, I remember us discovering the idea of the black bloc and stuff like that and knowing we were more interested in that than joining the Labour party or whatever. We got involved in some of the student protests at the time, then I picked up a Crimethinc zine called Fighting For Our Lives when I went to see the band Abolition. That zine gave everything we were talking about and feeling a name, which is anarchism. Those ideas were actually really prevalent in the screamo and DIY scene that we started touring in, and now here we are!
Political commentary and an impassioned call to resistance has been part of Dawn Rayd’s M.O from the off, talk to me about how you conceived the band as a vessel of resistance?
Honestly Dawn Ray’d was never meant to be this political, it came about from necessity more than anything else. WCOLT was political, but not overtly so, it was a very emotional band, and Black Mass wasn’t particularly political. We just really like black metal, but realised if we wanted to play in the radical/anarchist/squat scene in europe we would have to make it clear that we weren’t right wing, as BM has such a terrible legacy on the continent. I just started referring to us as “anarchist black metal” or “antifascist black metal” in emails when booking shows just so the squats would let us through the door basically. Our first EP is half songs about politics and half songs about my personal life, so initially we didnt intend to go this hard.
We played a show in London one time and had a photo under a sign commemorating the battle of Lewisham, so we posed with an AFA flag, and we ended up getting a crazy amount of death threats, hate mail, trolls, negative comments etc, and from what we could tell we were the first ever black metal band to pose with an AFA flag! It just highlighted how bad the situation was in the extreme metal scene, and made us double down on the politics. Ever since then we have been looking for ways to push that line ever further to the left, and cause as much controversy as possible! Ha! I’m pretty sure we must be the first band to pose with that flag in a feature in Kerrang, or at Damnation Festival, we were the first black metal band to play at Blitz in Oslo, plus loads of other really rewarding moments. It’s been a rocky but exciting ride definitely!
Swedish and Norwegian Black Metal as a genre sprang forth from a sense of atavism and attempting to connect to their nations pre-christian identity. In the UK we’ve seen similar ideas of heritage, blood and soil etc perpetuated by a number of black metal bands…have you encountered any of that type of shit at shows or do the two sides of black metal kinda stay in their own bubbles?
Honestly the two sides seem to stay separate. Initially when initially started we would just play with screamo, doom, or crust bands, as we just wouldnt get booked on metal shows because of how much hassle we are, but as the records started to do well and a few other bands came along, Neckbeard Deathcamp, Feminazgul, Underdark etc, we seemed to become more tolerable. The USBM scene is also fairly liberal, so we got absorbed into that as well, so we now find ourselves in our own scene or niche. I guess the people that book the nazi and pedophile bands aren’t going to want us to play anyway. That scene is also massively on the decline now too which helps.
Dawn Ray’d has chalked up some serious miles of road. I usually ask bands about the inevitable ugliness they encounter but let’s balance that with a positive reflection or memory too?
Ha, the ugly bits make for the funniest stories!
Some positive moments… We headlined a fest called Black Flags Over Brooklyn which was organised by journalist Kim Kelly, and seeing a sold out anarchist metal fest happen in Brooklyn, NY, and watch bands like Racetraitor talk about anti-racism to a huge crowd genuinely made me cry, it was such an awesome moment.
Seeing kids go wild during our set in Oakland in a massively over sold show and know the words was a mad feeling, seeing all the tattoos of our lyrics is always amazing, playing a show in a shop in the snow in front of members of Iskra in Victoria, Canada was awesome, seeing our banner get torn down in a wild basement show in the Midwest on our first tour was fun, selling out our stage at Roadburn and seeing Austin Lunn from Panopticon in the crowd was mad, playing a show in the woods in an anarchist encampment in Eugene and finding out someone had been sitting in the woods in camo with a rifle in case the local far right militia attacked the show, being told in a very conservative US state that our music helped a kid come out as trans, all the people that have told us we turned them into anarchists… I guess we have been lucky enough to have a long list of good tour stories now.
I admire your lyrical directness. What writers, events or traditions have particularly influenced your writing?
I read a lot of modernist poetry to help me write, that seems to fill my head with ideas and I’ll end up writing a song. Stuff like TS Eliot, WH Auden, John Burnside, Sharon Olds, and recently Eva HD. Also some novels help, William Golding, obviously Tolkien, stuff that is super descriptive.
Other than that I just try and write about the things we believe but from an interesting angle, I don’t feel like theres is any point me copying the directness of Aus Rotten or Oi Polloi when they have done it already, so I try and keep it within the linguistic aesthetic of black metal, so lots of metaphors, and a level of fantasy or timelessness. These are timeless ideas!
I read Desert and Blessed Is The Flame since our last record came out, so I’m sure that will play out on our new songs.
With circumstances in the UK becoming increasingly untenable towards protest and trespass with the free movement and police powers bill, it’s not unreasonable to assume that by the end of 2021 we’ll see more of the kind of actions we’ve seen in Bristol and Glasgow. It feels very much as though England teeters on the brink….what’s next?
Man, who knows. I guess the UK will keep marching right, it will become ever more authoritarian, especially as the world becomes more precarious due to climate change. We are just going to have to constantly reassess and find new ways to resist what is happening. Being smart and responding to what is around us is the key. Hearing about the immigration van in Glasgow made me cry, it was such a beautiful action!
To my mind community activism and building new frameworks without government involvement are the way forward. The diy punk / anarchist ethic expanded outward….do you agree?
Yes, 100%. There were reports leaked from the US about how overwhelmed the police were during the BLM protests, when there were constant small actions happening all at once. I saw the police said they can easily police one group of 10,000 people, but are totally unable to control 10 groups of 1000 people. Small autonomous actions are defintely the way forward I think! Fuck the state, fuck the neoliberal parties like Labour who suck our energies dry. We are so much stronger when we are autonomous, chaotic and anarchic!
Has your no compromise stance led to incidents of confrontation at shows?
Only once ever has anyone said anything in person, and myself and the promoter robustly removed him from the show, shall we say… The thing to always remember is that the far right are absolute cowards. We are always prepared for a confrontation though, but I guess they know that and stay away.
For the kid picking up the Dawn Rayd record for the first time, and being exposed to these sorts ideas can be a real paradigm shift…what do you hope for new listeners to take from your music?
I want them to become anarchists and antifascists. It was a zine at a show that changed my life, and we now distribute our own introduction to anarchism, and have been told by loads of people that it introduced and convinced them of these ideas. I want people to know they are so much stronger than they realise, one person involved in direct action to protect migrants, feed people, help women access abortion, disrupt the industries that destroy animals or fight to protect the earth is worth so much more than thousands of people marching through a major city with signs and banners. There are so many things that need to be done, that require every skill set that exists, everyone is needed in the fight for freedom!