"I believe the punk community is a resistance to capitalism consumption, otherwise I wouldn't be a conscious participant in it! On the other hand, being part of resistance doesn't mean that we always win."
I was lucky enough to catch three piece punk band Meinhof in full flow at The Cavendish Arms, Stockwell in the middle of February. A few weeks earlier I had decided to travel down to London to see one band in particular although by the day of the gig that had grown to two, which was good as I looked at the timings list and realised the main reason for coming down couldn’t make it! Anyway that is where Meinhof come in, they were more or less unknown to me, I had heard a few bits and bobs online, and they were absolutely amazing! Struggling to convey the power and force that Meinhof are live I ended up describing them to a friend as sounding at times like ‘Motorhead on speed’, which is probably doing them a disservice. Comprised of original members guitarist Jarek and Rosy on bass and vocals and now Davide on drums they have been going since 2006. Their first album, The Rush Hour of Human Misery came out in 2007 with subsequent releases including Endless War in 2016 After their set I was able to have a chat with songwriter and guitarist Jarek including asking whether they would be interested in doing an interview, fortunately they were.
(((o))): Could you give us an overview of Meinhof? I think you are from three different areas of Europe, how did you meet?
Jarek: I immigrated from Poland a decade and a half ago. Rosy is Spanish and Davide comes from Italy. All of us have a common interest which is punk, the idea that also bring some sort of people together. Basically, I met Rosy at a punk gig a time ago, we both are the original members of the band. Davide is our new drummer, I knew him before, but first we got into a friendship because our other passion, tattooing. Then I discovered, that he can also play the drums, so he naturally joined the band when our previous drummer could not cope with all the commitments anymore.
Davide: I joined Meinhof less than a year ago…I’ve seen them playing through the years in London…
(((o))): When did you start? Has the line up stayed pretty constant?
Jarek: We started around 2006. The line up hasn’t stayed constant, we used to have many different band members, even Rosy was just singing at the beginning, then she also adopted some bass guitar skills, which helped to establish some sort of stability in the band.
(((o))): Had any of you been in bands before?
Davide: I was playing in a band before joining Meinhof but we split up just before and we never did more than some fucked up gigs in London squats. Also a couple of weeks ago I joined two friends and we just started playing together in this band called Slap.
Jarek: I got my first punk band in late 80’s… I used to play for two bands that managed to gain some sort of popularity on the DIY punk scene in 90’s Poland, Silna Wola and Guernica Y Luno. Rosy: My first band was back in the 90’s…I’ve play for different bands as a vocalist which gave me experience in performance and writing.
(((o))): Was having different musical/punk cultures to draw on useful? Have you managed to synthesise those different influences? Or is that a stupid question because punk styles are universal and transcend cultural boundaries!?
Jarek: I think that you can be both right saying that being raised in different cultures requires to synthesise the different influences on some level, but on the other hand, punk style is pretty universal thing, and you can quite easily communicate and understand through it with people who live in far away worlds from each other. This is what happens when we travel with the band! You meet people who share with you some similar views and passion, and even when you talk to them for first time in your life, you feel that special connection between you and them, they seem to be your friends long before you even knew them… That’s the beautiful part of punk!
(((o))): How would you describe your sound?
Jarek: I think it is rooted in so called “d-beat”, influenced by crust… Recently we are experimenting with adding a bit of thrash metal into our sound… I don’t know, it is pretty hard to answer this question, haha… We are trying to achieve something unique, however without some strict classical formula it wouldn’t be punk music anymore, would it?
Davide: I think our sound is something like a mix of punk, metal and a mountain slide…
(((o))): Are any of you in other bands as well as Meinhof?
Rosy: I’m playing with Kill Bitches To Dress Foxes which is all female band and I also sing in Erege which is band formed in Brazil a long time ago.
Jarek: Not me, I am sort of not capable of being really devoted to more than one project…
(((o))): I think your first album The Rush Hour Of Human Misery came out in 2007, what sort of issues were you singing about on that album?
Jarek: The Rush Hour Of Human Misery was a pretty experimental thing, because we have recorded it without a real drummer, instead we used the drum machine, however there was no intention to cover it up, so you can easily recognize that the sound is pretty “digital” on this record. In general, we are trying to be politically aware, and that’s reflected in our lyrics, I guess. You know, singing about loads of issues, very often repeating and bringing up subjects which were already raised by many other bands many times… I believe, that as long as these problems are existing in the world, there is no valuable reason to stop singing about them, in hope of change…
(((o))): Three albums and roughly 10 years later you have released Endless War, are the subjects you engage with on the different albums similar but from a slightly different positions as you are older and wiser or do you tackle different subjects completely?
Jarek: Five albums… Yeah, I can say, that the majority of subjects remain the same… Do we really see a meaningful change around us to abandon the need of voicing out our ideas and hopes? Is our rage smaller than a decade ago? Not really… Well, everybody learns all his life, we can even discover that what we believe and stand for is not relevant to a changing world anymore… For example, this is what happening to me when I think of religions… I am in a constant war within myself how to treat the subject, sometimes I think we should allow people to believe in whatever the fuck they want, and as long as they don’t harm others, it is completely OK to believe in any sort of bullshit, but sometimes I think, that our sacred tolerance should be limited for the sake of humanity…
(((o))): What sources do you draw on in lyric writing? Books, films, current events, your own experiences?
Jarek: It can be anything, really… I am a big fan of movies, so they inspire me a lot! But I think, that the most of subjects come from your daily experiences, observation and reflection.
(((o))): How does the creative process work in Meinhof? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Jarek: At the moment, I am the main songwriter. I am in the band from the very beginning, in fact I projected a style and the way to express the band’s music format even before Meinhof was a performing act… The band is very important part of my life and I understand that it can be sometimes difficult for some to comply with my ideas, but with the passing of time I am more and more open to others opinions and suggestions. At the end, the band consist of three people, all of them possess a unique set of skills, which is crucial for the final result.
Davide: I have nothing to do with the making of songs and lyrics but I’m enjoying both as we all feel quite the same way about what is around us. For sure I would be happy if these lyrics could wake up the minds of some people…
(((o))): Your songs are driven by a strong political position, how did that politics take shape? Is your politics constantly evolving?
Jarek: Well, my politics are evolving all the time, as you are constantly exposed to new informations, to say the least. However I am a liberal, sympathizing with anarchist and antifascist ideas, which builds a base for my political stance.
(((o))): Do you hope that your music would wake people up to notice what is going on around them politically and socially?
Jarek: Would I still do it if I don’t hope for that?
(((o))): I guess Meinhof would be classed as anarcho-punk, how would you say that scene is doing? Is it quite strong and healthy?
Jarek: To be honest, I don’t know anymore… Punk is still a noticeable part of social culture, but on the other hand, it has lost its potency throughout the last decades… And anarcho-punk is just a fraction of what we call DIY punk scene, so let’s be honest here, contemporary anarchists have a very marginal influence on what is happening in the world. Is it a real strength capable to effectively change the reality? I’d like to believe that, of course… Healthy? Well, nobody is perfect, also there is no single political or social idea perfectly right about fucking everything! Anarchism is just one of possible ways, and it would have to evolve and adapt to some circumstances if confronted with practice. I know a few people who call themselves anarcho-punx, and they are utter assholes, haha…
(((o))): Claudia Mesch wrote in ‘Art and Politics’ that mainstream culture is market and media driven (1) do you think the punk community with its ethos of DIY art and grassroots participation can be a site of resistance to passive capitalist consumption? Can the punk scene be something that encourages activism?
Jarek: I believe the punk community is a resistance to capitalism consumption, otherwise I wouldn’t be a conscious participant in it! On the other hand, being part of resistance doesn’t mean that we always win… We live in a particular reality, and there is no ultimate escape from it. Obviously, sometimes capitalism consumption can spoil our scene, we can see some examples of it… But the real fight is a struggle where you wrestle with the world you oppose, and where is struggle there are also compromises… Of course the punk scene encourages activism, and that’s clear, however punk is a dying thing, so the activism is not to scale it used to be, in my honest opinion. –
Davide: I think punk can encourage activism but is not enough by itself to make it happen… I think activism is something even deeper in the personality then music…
(((o))): In the book ‘One Chord Wonders’ Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (2). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?
Jarek: It depends… On one hand the punk scene is strongly influenced by feminism and female emancipation, but there are still some cases of sexism present anyway. It really does depend on individuals. Our scene is not perfect, it never was and never will be, but I can proudly say that it is still a kind of safe haven for women… Especially if you compare it to the outside world which is full of sexism, male dominance and brutal abuse towards women.
(((o))): A lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, an essentialist assumption that because they are a woman their musicianship will be less than a man’s! What has your experience been like in the anarcho-punk/DIY scene? Is it a better place for women than other sub-cultures?
Rosy: I believe that anarcho-punk/DIY scene is a better place for women as we’ve opened our minds to more information than the newspapers or tv provide, and this give us a bigger view of how the real world is, but despite this there always will be some ignorants you can find in the way.
Davide: I guess women find a man-built society anywhere they are, but I don’t see much of this assumption in the punk scene… In the contrary I think bands with girls are quite welcomed… But that’s also a kind of sexism!
(((o))): Overall are you encouraged by the punk scene over the last 10 years? Do you think it has survived, thrived and developed in a positive way?
Jarek: Well, I will be a part of the scene even it will be long time gone, haha… It definitely survived, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be so positive saying that it is developing… it is rather declining… But fuck it, we are still here aren’t we?
Davide: I don’t think the scene is improving or developing much, we are in London and there are quite a few of places where gigs are going on, but still, I think it is always less and less. I don’t think the anarcho-punk is doing so well in London, there are a lot of bands but the amount of gigs on the full DIY spectrum are just a few, especially since the criminalisation of squatting…
(((o))): You are a band that plays all over Europe, what would your take be on how people are responding to the class war of neoliberal austerity being imposed all over Europe?
Jarek: Not that it is so important to mention, but we also played in Asia and South America… Well, that’s a difficult question! You can see some protest and resistance, however I am afraid, that a wider activity or political awareness of people is suppressed by the most powerful weapon they have, consumption. When politician manage to secure the basic needs of their citizens, then nobody even ask for freedom anymore… That’s why nationalism is on the rise worldwide! You could think that the working class would be the most resistant to those devastating tendencies, but here lies the surprise. The 19th century classical meaning of class war where workers fought to liberate themselves from capitalist oppression is not the characteristic of the today’s world. To the contrary, nowadays the working class is the motor for nationalism, xenophobia and racism, fuelled by political populism and ignorance. Look at Brexit…
Davide: I think since this new crisis people in Europe are fighting back less and less because they have much less time, energy and hope to change things as many are struggling to get to the end of the month… Also together with the austerity there’s more police oppression and violence.
(((o))): You have spent 10 years stimulating others to thought, how have you avoided becoming jaded?
Rosy: Music is among the things that give sense to my life so if one day I can’t do it anymore that will be my last day in this fucking world!
Jarek: Well, I guess, the reality bites you each and every single day, so how could you possibly be emotionless, unconcerned and bored?! Hahaha…
(((o))): What are Meinhof’s plans for 2017?
Jarek: There are some, I don’t know if they are worth mentioning… But maybe a new album that we are planning to record this year…
(((o))): What musicians, thinkers, writers have you been particularly influenced by? And who have you been enjoying lately?
Rosy: One of the bands I really enjoy back in the 90’s is Minor Threat but I’m a very open person who like loads of bands and different styles of music. I love to read better than watch movies and George Orwell is one of this writers that make me see things how they really are and have a big influence in my way of think about this world. Now I’m reading a book about science by Richard Dawkins call “The Magic Of Reality” which is very interesting. Talking about thinkers, definitely Erich Fromm is among others, one of the most interesting that I’ve had read.
Jarek: Well, too many to mention! I don’t have any particular mentors to be influenced by… I am reading a biography of Ulrike Meinhof right now! We don’t admire her and have never supported terrorism as a form of struggle for a better world, as it even sounds absurd, but she was a very interesting case and yes, I am enjoying her story, hahaha…
1) Mesch, C. (2014) ‘Art and Politics; a small history of art for social change since 1945’, I. B. Tauris, London & New York.
(2) Laing, D. (2015) ‘One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock’, PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.
Photo by Robak.