Concrete and fumes

Have you heard of extreme picnicking? I’m told that some people like to ensue picturesque hillsides and secluded romantic coves to eat al fresco surrounded by concrete and fumes. There’s also extreme ironing, in urban myth, legend and Sun page seven features, where the cosy front room and old black and white film is tossed aside so people can flatten creases out of their shreddies surrounded by concrete and fumes.

The occupy movement must therefore equate to a form of extreme camping, pitching up not next to a cow pat in a damp field but in the centres of the World’s capitalist bastions, surrounded by concrete and fumes. It’s fitting then, that possibly the World’s most extreme band are showing full solidarity with those tent cities in Wall Street, London, Barcelona and round the back of the Flapper in Birmingham.

For were there a musical force that was all about life surrounded by concrete and fumes and exhorting you to be ethical above all it’s Napalm Death. So with a new album—Utilitarian—about to stencil itself upon brutalism everywhere I spoke to Barney Greenway to see if a heavy rock band imbued by fumes and musically concrete (if not musique concrète) can help change the World.

Occupy is all about communication, as Barney says “you need a multi-location attack, people in their homes…at all levels of society to engage. It can’t just be about people reading about the camps in the newspapers”. But communication is hard: sometime because of the oligarchical media because and we’re across an echoing Skype connection. That said, Barney’s points are the sort that you feel he’ll often make twice for impact as well as to make sure I can hear him.

“We know about the equality gap around the World and Birmingham’s a part of that. Naplam has been proven to resonate with people musically and ideologically. There’s past evidence. You are lead to believe that you just should accept stuff…there are matters of great social injustice and you’re expected not to react.”

Napalm and Barney certainly are not ones to do what’s expected.

“Whatever effect we have is always going to be under the auspices of the band talking about things…which has always fallen into place, we’re not a choreographed band, it’s spontaneous.”

Napalm have been going for some thirty years and the last twenty or so with Greenway up front, they invented a genre. The local council are waking up to music’s heritage in Birmingham, and the ‘Death—as fans probably call them, I’m sure—feature heavily in an exhibition about the history of heavy metal. I assumed that this must make them feel like under-pressure elder statesmen. But Barney says “Not at all…I certainly don’t feel any pressure from anyone outside.”

In fact the new LP seems to exist somewhat apart from the music industry, from any scene, from everything but what the band are thinking and feeling about. “to be totally honest, I’ve been out of the loop a bit…I’ve had no chance to check out what’s going on with music.”

“I find it hard to, you know, micro-analayse Napalm. We’ve got all these albums and one journalist might ask about the differences. We’re all these kinds of things, we’re not just a grindcore band, we’re not just influenced by metal. w’ere not just influenced by abrasive punk, there’s lots of other things besides. Every Napalm album sounds different, so I’m told, but in a good way. That’s a good place to be I think.”

“I tend to see an evolution after the fact…you think ‘is this better than the last album?’ and it’s only after the fact that you have time to think…it’s worked.”

Barney’s favourite track on this album is ‘Everyday Cocks’, which seems to work by being everything—or almost everything Napalm Death ever are all at once. And has a rude word in the title, which is another thing I think I’ve grown to expect.

“It’s one that encapsulates everything for me. It’s a really obtuse track, some of the chords on there aren’t really conventional. It has a real creeping slow aspect to it and then it goes mental and fast. It also has a sax break…everything in one track.”

The music is important, but I get the feeling that Barney at least can’t separate that from the World at large and nor should we want him to:

“I’m just showing solidarity basically…other bands should.”

This piece originally appeared in Fused.

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.

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