THE COMMUNITY, OPPORTUNITIES AND LIMITATIONS OF PUNK – AN INTERVIEW WITH FAINTEST IDEA

by Chris Jarvis

Faintest Idea are a street punk influenced ska band hailing from the Norfolk coastal town of King’s Lynn known for their energetic live shows, filled with singalongs, skanking and rivalling horns. The lyrical content of their music, as with much of the underground ska-punk scene, is littered with radical and anarcho politics. Through a series of questions, The Norwich Radical tried to tease out the reasons behind their politics, the relationship it has to their music, and how they see their role in a wider political context as part of a new series – Music That Matters. 

Speaking to Dani and Sara from Faintest Idea, it quickly becomes clear that they have a nuanced and complex view of the role of punk music in political change, recognising the importance and value of the political musical output of punk bands, as well as the residual effects that this has on the wider scene and community, but also acknowledging its fundamental limitations.

Dani Camp, bassist and vocalist told us: ‘I think punk music can be great for getting the very basic idea’s and emotions out there. It’s a good starting point or stepping stone for you to go and learn more about things. I think it’s a very useful tool to inspire people and to keep their spirits up. I know it’s probably cliché as fuck but who can honestly say as a young teenager, angry at everything, hearing ‘Killing in the Name’ didn’t make them want to smash everything up in the best possible way?’

Similarly, Sara agreed – ‘It can be a great tool to inspire people to activism, or even to experience something a bit differently. The reason the role of musical spaces is so important is because the music itself is often the thing that reaches lots of people and inspires their politics’

But they both have an astute understanding of the risk of the echo chamber, that political bands, and punk bands in particular risk continually talking amongst themselves, to similarly minded people without reaching beyond the political left that dominates the fans in the scene.

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Dani – ‘Punk’s obviously limited in that it’s generally short angry songs and so you’ve gotta get it out in 4 or maybe 8 lines in a verse. I think [politics is] an important part of our band but I’m not under any illusions we’re actually changing much just by singing songs. Playing music to rooms full of people who already agree with you gives you a nice feeling of community but it’s very much preaching to the converted. I don’t do the whole political preaching thing between songs for that very reason. That’s not in any way a dig at bands that do, some do it really well, I just don’t. I’ve always felt a bit uneasy as a band full of white people, telling a room full of other white people to pat ourselves on the back for not being racist.’

Dani here acknowledges the whiteness and male dominated nature of the punk scene and the related erasure of women and people of colour which has oft been criticised by people within the scene, but which we still don’t seem to have tackled yet. Sara is keen to offer practical steps to make a better scene and a better punk community:

In my experience, it’s really easy for musical
spaces to stagnate when it becomes the public
wank space for one group of people.

‘I think that we should be leading by example. Especially when we talk about marginalised groups within punk. I think that creating safe spaces for people to feel confident in vocalising themselves or to even turn up is important. In my experience, it’s really easy for musical spaces to stagnate when it becomes the public wank space for one group of people. It’s cyclical – if we don’t create a space that encourages women or people of colour, or queer identities to feel safe then they’ll never come to shows, or get involved. When I talk about feeling ‘safe’ it’s not always about immediate personal danger, I think that it includes making people feel like they’re on equal footing and not the afterthought of a liberal well-meaning group of white cis gendered men who only know how to engage with their own struggles. I mean how many shows have you been to that have wheelchair access? Sometimes having separate spaces is the answer and sometimes allowing ourselves to be critical of how we’re not being that inclusive is the answer – we need to approach it on the needs of the marginalised and not the ones who already dictate how the scene is run. Surely the whole point of punk spaces are to provide an inclusive alternative space for people that feel mainstream culture rejects them – so why is it so exclusive? There’s so many examples of progressive spaces working, for example our friends in the Dovetown crew are trailblazing their way through creating female-led and queer identity line ups that are also all ages. There’s so many sub-scenes that are working super hard to make their spaces more inclusive, you just gotta look a little harder.’

And in this, we come to the crux of the importance, according to Dani and Sara, of the punk scene and its political function. It is about creating a political space, a community which is more than the music it makes, but the bonds between people within it, the sharing of ideas and communication and the building of people who go out and try to shape the world.

Sara – ‘The important aspect of music is definitely the community it engenders, that’s where you’ll encounter people that introduce you to new ideas or reinforce them or even challenge them. I think punk helped to vocalise all those anti-establishment things I was feeling and allowed me a space to develop upon that, whilst throwing in all these people to discuss these ideas with.’

Dani – ‘It’s not just the music but the scene as a whole that helps to develop your ideas as well. Thanks to playing this kind of music we’ve got friends all over the world we talk to and discuss things with and I think that helps give you a broader view of what’s going on and the problems different people face in different regions. We toured Russia in 2014 and it was a fascinating experience. You’ve gotta remember that everything we hear of them (and heard about them from the Cold War era) is put through the propaganda machine and the same with us to them and so being able to actually go there and meet people you share similar ideas with was amazing.’

It is this sense of community within the punk scene that creates the circulation which keeps it alive – the musicians are the activists are the fans are the musicians. Speaking on their own activism, Dani and Sara told us the following:

Dani – ‘In the past we’ve all been involved in various things, writing letters, peaceful marching, less peaceful tactics, attempting to open up squats, all sorts of things. Even though I’ve been unable to do more direct action I donate every month to The Green and Black Cross and two Norwich food banks ‘The Peoples Picnic’ and ‘The Norwich Soup Movement’ . All of them do great things. The two food banks are in the process of trying to open up a homeless shelter in Norwich so I’ve just bought some books I’m gunna be selling at our merch table with all money going towards that project.’

Sara – ‘When I was younger and much more idealised I had the time to really craft my anger and was involved in a lot of protests and demos. I was up for anything – from animal rights demos to feminist workshops and big political protests. I’m also pretty heavily involved in the Queer Punk scene with my other band Block Fort, which has been a really enlightening venture – we play a lot of queer spaces which are organised to create supportive networks for a lot of people who are often marginalised in punk. Lots of good work being done by Queer We Go Leeds and all the Queer Fests.’

No matter how many times people say that punk is dead, bands like Faintest Idea will continue to prove them wrong, with their radical political outlook, their down to earth understanding of the scene and their hard-hitting, fun-loving, skank-a-long music. And so as the interview comes to an end, I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom from Sara: ‘Music creates these supportive networks of similarly minded people, so in terms of organising for progressive change you already have a structure in which to organise. But it can’t be done simply by writing a few angry songs, music is there to inspire and encourage and even share ideas, however it’s what you do with all that once it’s out there that’s really going to affect change.’

To find Faintest Idea’s music, tour dates merch and more, click here.

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