Forming in England in 1977, Crass promised to break up in 1984 as a tribute to the Orwell book that they compared to England at the time which was ruled under Margaret Thatcher. Even though they quickly became favorites in the “anarcho-punk” scene, and released some of their best work late in their career, Crass followed through with their breakup. Music is not just what Crass was about though. They created a true lifestyle and that is what helps keep this bands legacy what it is and introduced a true subculture lifestyle to many punks.
Crass actually formed at a place they called Dial House in Essex. It was here punks lived in an almost commune like state; creating a punk lifestyle which promoted everything from true anarchism, feminism, animal rights, and environmentalism. Everything they did had a DIY approach if it was their albums, leaflets or films. There were several members of the band but for our purpose we will focus on the two women of the group: Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre, both whom did vocals.
Libertine and De Vivre did most of their work with the band on their 1981 release called Penis Envy. Critics cited this as being a more "female friendly" Crass. That was most likely because females did the vocals compared to the more hardcore punk style of the previous releases which featured Steve Ignorant on vocals. Nonetheless the album was a prelude to the future riot grrrl scene. The album is filled with songs dealing in feminism, the institution of marriage, sexual repression and typical Crass topics such as politics and the environment. They also pulled off a seriously good prank by recording a parody of an MOA recording called "Our Wedding." The band convinced the teen magazine, Loving, to release this song as a flexi disc. The magazine,having no idea this was a joke, accepted and thousand of teenage girls were gifted the sarcastic punk version that Crass had recorded. When asked about if she considered herself a feminist at the time, Libertine replied
"I'm a bit weary of the term. When people ask if you are a feminist or if you are something, I'd like to know what they mean before answering that. But I guess, yes, the album is. I have heard from women that they really appreciate it and get a lot from it. And men who hadn't thought of that stuff before."
The album wasn't without true controversy either. With it being 1984, and having the title Penis Envy, you had to expect it. It was banned by HMV and it was seized by police at various record shops who were accused of selling "obscene articles for publication for gain." Since Crass owned the record label it was released on, they were convicted of charged under the Obscene Publications Act. Eventually the ruling was overturned but not until it had left a lasting financial burden on the band which they have said made the decision to disband an easy one.
Post Crass, Eve Libertine continued to make music with various acts. Her main passion, art, has been her most constant medium. She has had several art shows in Europe and is sought after due to the political nature of her work and, of course, her history with the punk band.
Little can be found out about Joy De Vivre these days but we do know she has continued recording through the years and she is also an artist.
If I could form a "badass women in music" hall of fame, these two would be my first inductees. Crass helped develop not only a genre but an entire lifestyle. They did things their way and for no other reason than that they believed in exactly what they were doing and saying. There is so much to say about the importance of not only these women, but the entire band. I recommend reading one of the several books that are out there on the band.
I leave you with a classic BBC news segment (who doesn't love those) about the band.